[Word Count: 8226]
Sometime in 1997
Aqua: "It's been six years since Ai's 20th birthday, and since then, Leo has stopped giving us those blank looks whenever we did something out of the ordinary. Maybe it had to do with us growing up, or perhaps he simply stopped caring."
Aqua found himself lifted onto Leo's shoulders as the two of them strolled down the street.
Aqua: "Today, Leo took me with him, so we could patrol the streets. He said he was going to show me the life of a devil hunter, and now we were patrolling the streets in search of devils. I tried to remind him that I'm only 9 years old, but he insisted on bringing me along. Sometimes, I can't quite decipher what's going on in my father's head. However, after we left the apartment, I gave up on trying to find a reason and decided to just go with it."
Aqua gazed up at the cloudy sky above as the vibrant sounds of the bustling neighborhood filled his ears. From the corner of his eye, he caught a figure soaring off in the distance.
"Papa," Aqua said, diverting Leo's attention and pointing towards the distant figure. "There's a devil flying over there."
Leo followed Aqua's gaze and spotted the devil he was referring to, the Bat Devil. "Impressive eye, Aqua. I didn't even bother scanning the area," he remarked, a smug grin on his face. "Color me impressed."
Aqua: "Leo walks a fine line between being a private devil hunter and one associated with Public Safety. While he keeps the bounty of any devil he eliminates, the bureau contacts him if they're dealing with a particularly nasty devil their agents can't handle."
"Shouldn't you take care of it?" Aqua asked, leaning down to meet Leo's gaze, puzzled by his nonchalant demeanor.
"They haven't called me," Leo replied casually, tapping his pocket. "Plus, we shouldn't worry about a devil in the middle of the city when there's one right behind us."
"Eh?" Aqua's head whipped around, and sure enough, a devil with a large, wrinkled body, four legs, and two tentacle-like arms loomed behind them.
The Leech Devil behind them giggled, and Leo's attention remained on the Bat Devil soaring above the city. "Hohoho, what an adorable child," the Leech Devil chuckled. "While I intended to assist Batsy, I'm certain he'll forgive me once I bring him such a charming face."
"Oh! Look! Someone took the devil's arm!" Leo exclaimed, his attention focused on the falling Bat Devil, momentarily ignoring the presence of the Leech Devil. Aqua reluctantly tore his gaze away from the Leech Devil to follow Leo's gaze.
The Leech Devil extended its elongated neck toward Leo, angling its head for a better view. "Oh, Hoh? Another charming face, I see?"
As the Bat Devil crash-landed into a building, causing a cloud of dust and debris to rise, Leo's curiosity remained fixed on the Leech Devil. "Charming? Well, thank you," he responded, raising an eyebrow as he turned to face the enigmatic Leech Devil, his lips curving into a faint smile.
The Leech Devil reciprocated with a wicked grin, revealing unnaturally perfect teeth. "I have an affinity for handsome men," it purred, releasing a breath that made Aqua involuntarily cover his nose in distaste.
Unfazed, Leo continued to study the Leech Devil, circling it slowly. The devil's grin grew wider with every step, its eerie expression not escaping Leo's notice. "Even if I were interested in devils in that way, I'm already engaged," he replied with a casual smile.
"Ah, what a pity," the Leech Devil sighed, maintaining its unsettling grin. "I would have enjoyed leaving you two-"
"Hmm?" Leech emitted as a sensation of something piercing one of its legs materialized. Looking downward, it noticed Leo skewering its leg with a katana that appeared seemingly out of thin air. The devil's smile stretched as a droplet of blood began to ooze from the wound. "How delightful. What was-"
But even as it voiced its confusion, the sound of glass grinding against glass commenced, followed by the disconcerting noise of rending flesh. The Leech Devil choked, its previously immaculate teeth now stained with blood.
"What's happening...?" the Leech Devil gasped, its tone laced with panic, as it felt its insides being ripped apart.
In short order, the clamor of glass against glass and the tearing of flesh ceased, and the Leech Devil collapsed against the ground with a resounding thud. Blood flowed freely from its mouth, and its body adopted the form of a sagging tent with an internal structure retracting, allowing its form to gradually flatten against the ground as more blood spewed from its lips.
Snapping the katana in half, Leo left a portion impaled in the Leech Devil to prevent his attire and Aqua from being drenched in its blood.
The sole audible sound was the trickle of blood from the Leech Devil's mouth, while the katana in Leo's grip dwindled to the chime of glass. It seamlessly transformed into a hunting knife, which he then stowed away in his jacket.
Even as the muted drip of blood subsided, an unspoken exchange flowed between Leo and Aqua. Their shared gaze remained fixed on the dwindling form of the defeated devil.
After a period of silence, Leo gently lowered Aqua from his shoulders, placing him on the ground before him. He met his son's eyes and detected an unfamiliar queasiness reflected there. "What's the matter, Aqua?" Leo inquired, his hands steadying on Aqua's shoulders. "I thought you and Ruby had grown accustomed to this."
"Huh?" Aqua's response carried a note of confusion, his gaze fixed on Leo's. Beneath the surface of his inquiry lay a mixture of concern and something else, a shadow reminiscent of the distant expressions Leo once wore when confronted with their peculiar behavior as babies.
The past six years hadn't simply flown by without leaving a mark. Aqua had sincerely strived to relinquish the shadow of his past life's tragic demise, endeavoring to embrace and value the man his father truly was. He cherished his family, accepting them despite his previous doubts. Thus, to witness that shade of doubt returning, it inflicted a more profound pain than he wished to admit.
"W-Why...?" Aqua's voice wavered, his nerves constricting around him. "Why did you bring me along on this?"
Merely posing that simple question to Leo caused a deep ache in Aqua's chest. No longer did he perceive the man through the lens of suspicion as his past life's potential assailant; instead, he recognized him as his father, as family. Witnessing that distance resurface in Leo's gaze was gradually eroding something within him.
"Why?" Leo echoed, the word hanging in the air. "I wanted to give you a glimpse into the life of a devil hunter."
Aqua's gaze wavered for a moment, his eyes flickering as he absorbed Leo's response. The mix of emotions within him was a storm he hadn't fully anticipated. He had spent years trying to bridge the gap between his doubts and his growing bond with his father, and now, it seemed like a familiar rift had suddenly reappeared.
"The intent was to expose one of you to this chaos, a glimpse of the path that may await if you tread the road I have," Leo mused aloud, his gaze momentarily distant as he contemplated. "Perhaps Ruby should accompany us next time. Nonetheless, what I truly wanted was a moment alone, with you."
Aqua's heart sank, a palpable unease urging him to take a step back.
"In those early days, when you and Ruby were mere infants, I somehow overlooked the fact that you both were already conversing in full sentences," Leo recounted, his voice tinged with reminiscence. "It wasn't until Ai brought up the notion of genetics that it struck me. I was never the genius Ai painted me to be—quite the opposite. I'm only where I am now because of a desire to never be back to where I used to be."
Aqua continued retreating, his steps seemingly infinite, yet the point of impact with the Leech Devil never came. A surreptitious glance over his shoulder revealed an entirely different scene from before. The Leech Devil was absent, and the familiar cityscape had transformed into an interface between urban sprawl and verdant foliage, a junction of the metropolis and nature's expanse.
Leo's form was silhouetted against the forested backdrop, while Aqua inadvertently backed into the urban milieu.
"Now that we're here finally alone, I have to ask," Leo's tone dipped into an eerie cadence, dark and foreboding. "Who, exactly, are you?"
Aqua's heart quickened its tempo, and a quiver of unease traversed his spine as Leo's question lingered, heavy with portent. The atmosphere seemed to constrict, the very world pausing to listen for his response. He swallowed, the gesture both audible and palpable as he steadied himself to speak.
"I am Aqua," he replied, his voice a blend of resolve and tentativeness. "Aqua Tsukumo. I believed, and still do, that I am your son."
Leo's demeanor remained cloaked in mystery, the tension building with each passing second.
Aqua's gaze remained unwavering, his eyes locked onto Leo's. They were windows into his longing for truth and the craving for a deeper connection that transcended uncertainties. He had come to cherish the family they had built, to find solace in the bonds forged even as the specters of the past loomed. Now, at this pivotal juncture, he yearned for an unclouded revelation that could bridge the gaps between them.
Leo's expression retained its enigmatic quality, a silent exchange of emotions and unsaid words playing out through their locked gazes. The soft rustling of leaves behind Leo was a subdued backdrop to this defining instant, encapsulating the very essence of their intricate relationship.
Finally, Leo's lips curved in a bittersweet half-smile, his eyes revealing a tinge of melancholy.
"Aqua Tsukumo," Leo echoed, his voice carrying a gravity that seemed to reverberate through the air. "Part of me wishes that were the truth... but deep inside, I know it isn't."
Aqua's heart seemed to falter, Leo's words striking like an unexpected thunderbolt, catching his breath in a startled gasp. The very truth he had feared, the secret he had tiptoed around, was now exposed, a raw vulnerability before him.
"My blood courses through your veins, yet you're not truly Aqua, are you?" Leo murmured his voice nearly a whisper, his form still as a statue.
The words slammed into Aqua's consciousness, causing his breath to catch in a mixture of surprise and trepidation. The undeniable reality he had been avoiding now stood unmasked, demanding acknowledgment.
"Is it the same with Ruby?" Leo inquired, his half-smile fading, replaced by a solemn intensity. "Is she on the same boat as you? Whoever you are."
Aqua's eyes brimmed with unshed tears, his willpower alone preventing them from spilling over.
Leo's sigh seemed to carry the weight of the world, his realization a bitter pill he had long been aware of, yet willfully ignored until it could be ignored no longer. Even now, he sought answers, uncovering truths even if it meant manipulating the bonds he held dear.
"I'm sorry, Aqua," Leo said to himself as he walked deeper into the forest.
Watching Leo fade into the woods, Aqua clenched his fists, his nails biting into his palms as he wrestled with the overwhelming tide of emotions threatening to engulf him. The ache in his heart intensified, a mixture of pain, confusion, and a yearning for a connection he wasn't sure he had lost.
In that critical moment, when it seemed like the fabric of their reality was unraveling, Leo abruptly halted, his gaze shifting away from his intended path. Aqua hastily brushed away the tears that pooled at the corners of his eyes, his focus riveted on Leo's sudden change in demeanor.
Then, an explosion erupted nearby, shattering the tranquility of the scene. Projectiles sliced through the air with deadly intent, hurtling toward Aqua with a cruel velocity. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as Aqua's senses absorbed the impending danger.
Time seemed to slow as Aqua's world constricted to the deadly trajectory of those sharp objects, his senses hyper-focused on the imminent threat. He cast a fleeting glance at Leo, his unmoving form etched into his vision, before returning his attention to the deadly barrage hurtling toward him. Fear and resignation mingled within him, the specter of his past demise haunting his thoughts.
Aqua's world froze as the sharp objects slowly made their way toward him, his eyes fast enough to glance at Leo's unmoving figure before looking back at the sharp debris going for him. A part of him knew once he was hit, it would be over, again. He would die. Would he be reborn again or would this finally be the end? Would... would Leo step in to help...?
With a heavy heart, Aqua closed his eyes, his mind a tempest of conflicting emotions. He steeled himself for the inescapable impact, for the embrace of fate hurtling inexorably toward him. The weight of his uncertain destiny hung in the balance, a poignant reminder of the fragility of life and the enduring bond that connected him to Leo, whatever that bond may ultimately signify.
As the moment hung in the balance, Aqua closed his eyes, summoning his resolve in the face of the inevitable. The embrace of fate, whether cruel or merciful, awaited him. In this suspended moment, he braced himself for impact, his mind a tumultuous swirl of memories, fears, and a fragile glimmer of hope.
A profound stillness descended upon the scene, like a heavy curtain drawn over reality. As Aqua's eyes sealed shut, he found himself ensnared in a chilling void, a place between consciousness and uncertainty. The frigid embrace of that familiar cold surrounded him, its tendrils snaking around his senses.
With every fiber of his being, Aqua resisted the urge to reopen his eyes. The weight of the moment was crushing, laden with a sense of foreboding that refused to be ignored. He clung to the desperate hope that this was a fleeting nightmare, a cruel figment of his imagination that would dissolve upon waking.
His heart clenched, a silent plea echoing within him to wake from this torment, to escape the cruel grasp of this illusory reality. Yet, despite the fervent wish, the solace of awakening eluded him. The nightmare held him captive, a relentless reminder of the fragility of his existence.
A gradual warmth seeped into his awareness, slow and deliberate like the tentative embrace of dawn's first light. It crept beneath his skin, rousing his senses from their dormant state. Anxiety gnawed at him, its claws sinking deep as he grappled with the unnerving uncertainty that gripped him.
Then, as if carried by an otherworldly wind, Leo's voice pierced the silence. The single word reverberated through Aqua's consciousness, a jarring intrusion that shattered the fragile equilibrium of his thoughts.
Like an echo in the dark, Leo's voice pierced the silence. The sound was both jarring and grounding, pulling Aqua from the depths of his internal struggle. He opened his eyes to a surreal tableau, his father's distant gaze fixed upon the origin of the attack.
Aqua found himself cradled within Leo's protective arm, his vantage point granting him a firsthand view of Leo's sudden coughing fit. An instinctual worry knotted Aqua's chest as his gaze shifted to Leo's trembling hand, painted with the stark crimson of blood.
Aqua's thoughts raced, his mind struggling to process the scene before him. His eyes sought out any visible injuries on Leo's form, but his father appeared untouched by the recent attack. Confusion and concern mingled in Aqua's expression.
When Leo finally settled him down, Aqua's eyes remained locked onto the man's figure, a silent plea for answers. But the answer came with cruel clarity as Leo turned to face the source of their peril. Aqua's breath caught in his throat, his eyes widening with shock and disbelief.
Tears welled up in Aqua's eyes as the truth unfolded before him. The projectile lodged within Leo's back painted a grim picture of the injury he had sustained.
His fingers trembled as he reached out as if wanting to touch the reality of the situation, but his body remained paralyzed with shock. The sight of Leo, wounded and yet resolute, clashed with Aqua's understanding of his father as an unassailable pillar of strength.
Aqua's voice wavered as he finally found his words, his emotions raw and unfiltered. "L- Leo, you're hurt..."
The air seemed to hold its breath as Leo's gaze remained locked on the obscured figure of the devil amidst the chaotic aftermath. His actions were driven by a quiet determination, his focus unswerving even as Aqua's voice caught in his throat, a futile attempt to deter Leo from a perilous course of action.
The moment was etched with a sense of impending danger, an unspoken understanding that the situation could escalate further. Aqua's heart pounded in his chest as his instincts screamed at him to intervene, to stop Leo from pulling out the projectile embedded in his back. But the words never left his lips, frozen by a mixture of disbelief and a fear of the consequences.
A gut-wrenching sensation coiled within Aqua as he watched Leo's resolute yet agonizing movements. The slight stain of blood that tainted the ground behind Leo was a chilling testament to the severity of the situation. A wave of helplessness washed over Aqua, his hands clenching into fists at his sides as he desperately wished he could do something, anything to help out.
Leo's actions were marked by an almost eerie calmness, a stark contrast to the turmoil of emotions that raged within Aqua. The cracking of Leo's neck and the deep breath he took served as a prelude to the impending struggle that lay ahead. A cough threatened to escape Leo's lips, a visceral reminder of the extent of his injury.
With a determination that seemed almost otherworldly, Leo positioned himself into a running stance, his grip on the projectile unyielding. Aqua's heart raced, his gaze filled with a mixture of dread and admiration for his father's unyielding resolve. Silent pleas radiated from Aqua's eyes, a wordless prayer for Leo's safety, yet his voice remained trapped within his constricted throat.
The world seemed to narrow down to this singular moment, the air charged with tension as Leo prepared to face the looming threat head-on. The plume of debris began to clear, revealing the devil that had unleashed this sudden onslaught. All Aqua could do was watch, his heartache and anxiety forming a heavyweight within his chest, as Leo readied himself for the inevitable confrontation.
With a burst of explosive energy, Leo surged forward, propelled by a fierce determination that seemed to override any pain he must have been feeling. The devil, caught off guard by Leo's sudden and determined approach, responded with a mix of astonishment and hostility. Its grotesque features twisted into a sinister grin, exposing a menacing array of jagged teeth.
The clash that followed was a rapid and savage exchange, a dance of blades and ferocity that unfolded with breathtaking speed. Leo's movements exhibited a calculated precision that left Aqua simultaneously spellbound and filled with trepidation. Each strike, each parry, bore the mark of lethal efficiency, a testament to Leo's profound skill and resolve. In the midst of the chaotic confrontation, Aqua couldn't help but be both awed and deeply concerned for his father's well-being.
To its credit, the devil attempted to fight back, but it proved to be no match for Leo's mastery. The potential of Leo introducing the Glass Devil into their clash loomed heavily, a threat that would have swiftly ended the battle in a torrent of shattered glass. Yet Leo's tactics remained unpredictable and ferocious, his strikes and parries executed with relentless force.
The devil's form wavered, its malevolent grin giving way to an expression of disbelief as its own blood began to spatter the surroundings. As the battle reached a critical point, the devil's desperation became palpable. An attempt to flee was met with Leo's merciless response, as one of its legs was violently torn from its body.
The process of subduing the devil was agonizingly prolonged from the creature's perspective. The projectile Leo wielded was substantial, roughly the size of his forearm. In contrast to the devil's massive form, Leo's relentless stabs and cuts appeared almost insignificant, like minor paper cuts on a massive canvas.
Yet, with a relentless and methodical determination, Leo gradually wore down the devil's defenses. Its cries of pain echoed through the air as Leo's blade found its mark, piercing through layers of flesh until it reached the depths of the creature's intestines.
A malicious smile grew on Leo's face as the battle raged on. It was a chilling sight, a stark contrast to his usual composed demeanor. The thrill of the fight seemed to awaken a primal instinct within him, a side of Leo that Aqua had never witnessed before. Each movement became more fluid and calculated, a deadly choreography of precision and power.
The devil's attempts to counter Leo's onslaught grew increasingly feeble as its strength waned. Its once formidable defenses were now crumbling under the relentless assault. The air was thick with tension, a palpable sense of impending defeat enveloping the devil as Leo closed in for the final blow.
With a decisive strike, Leo plunged the projectile deep into the devil's core, eliciting a guttural howl of agony. The devil convulsed, its grotesque form contorting in a last desperate attempt to fight back. But it was futile. Leo's grip on the projectile remained unyielding, and with a final, savage twist, he delivered the fatal blow that ended the devil's existence.
The devil let out one final, ear-piercing shriek before its body succumbed to gravity, collapsing to the ground in a lifeless heap. The once-malicious grin on its face had twisted into a mask of suffering and defeat.
As the battle came to a close and the dust settled, Leo stood victorious amidst the aftermath. His breath was ragged, his body tense with the remnants of adrenaline still coursing through his veins. Yet, his victory was short-lived, as the toll of the fight began to catch up to him, unforgiving and merciless.
A sudden, violent cough wracked Leo's body, his hand instinctively covering his mouth as he doubled over. The echoes of his struggle reverberated through the once-silent air, a haunting reminder of the cost of his unwavering determination.
Aqua, who had been watching the intense battle unfold with a mixture of awe and dread, was jolted out of his reverie by the sight of his father's agony. Panic surged within him, and without a second thought, he sprinted toward Leo, his heart pounding in his chest.
"L- Leo!" Aqua's voice wavered with concern as he closed the distance between them, his steps hurried and unsteady.
Leo's body crashed against a nearby wall, the impact punctuated by a muffled thud. His eyes, once fierce and determined, now held a glimmer of vulnerability as the pain seared through his body. The wall bore the crimson stain of his blood, a stark contrast against the unforgiving concrete.
"Aqua..." Leo's voice was strained, and his breath labored as he struggled to maintain his composure. He lifted a trembling hand, fingers stained with blood, attempting to reassure his son even as his own strength wavered.
Aqua's hands reached out instinctively, steadying Leo as best he could. The sight before him was heartbreaking – his father, once an unstoppable force, now battling to hold onto his fragile grip on life.
"Papa, you're going to be okay," Aqua declared, his voice trembling but resolute. He knew time was of the essence, that he needed to find a way to alleviate Leo's suffering and save him from further harm. The instincts from his past life as a doctor surged within him, a silent plea for guidance in this dire moment.
Leo's face grew paler by the second, his strength waning as his heart struggled to pump life through his injured body. He managed a weak smile, his voice strained but filled with an unbreakable resolve.
"It's... fine, Aqua," Leo managed to utter between gasps, his words laced with a stubborn determination.
Despite the gravity of the situation, a faint chuckle escaped Leo's lips. With glass forming on his palms, he wiped away the blood that clung to his hand. With a clean hand, he gently patted Aqua's head.
"You're... crying," Leo managed to gasp out, his voice strained but filled with a mix of surprise and tenderness. "I... haven't seen you cry since... you were born."
Aqua's tears flowed freely down his cheeks, his emotions finally breaking free from the dam he had built within himself. He made no effort to wipe them away, his focus solely on the man before him, the father who had shown him a world he never thought possible. He struggled to find the right words, to convey the depth of his feelings, but Leo's words interrupted his thoughts.
"Tell me, who were you before Aqua?" Leo's voice was gentle, his touch brushing aside Aqua's hair as he looked into his son's eyes.
Aqua's lip quivered as he gathered his thoughts, his nerves still raw. "I was a doctor," he answered, his voice barely above a whisper, his gaze locked with Leo's.
"That's... cool as shit," Leo responded, a genuine smile tugging at the corners of his lips. "I only ever knew one doctor, but he was lame as shit."
A soft chuckle escaped Aqua's lips, the tension in the air momentarily easing. "I was that doctor," he admitted, a bittersweet smile playing on his lips. "My name was Gorou Amamiya."
Leo's expression shifted, a mixture of surprise and realization washing over him. "Oh..." he responded, his tone slightly awkward. "... I'm sure you were a cool guy behind closed doors."
Aqua's chuckle continued a softer and more genuine sound that now carried a touch of warmth. He wiped away the remnants of tears from his face, the exchange with Leo providing a small respite from the turmoil around them.
"You know, me and you aren't so different," Leo's voice held a hint of nostalgia, as if he was reminiscing about an era long past. "I died too."
Aqua's eyes widened, struck by the revelation. "You did?" he asked, his voice laden with surprise, his curiosity piqued.
Leo nodded, his gaze shifting upward to the sky above. "I was running away from home when I got lost in a forest," he began recounting, his voice carrying a distant tone. "Eventually, my body gave out, and I died in the middle of the forest floor with no one around, but soon after, I just woke up."
Aqua's heart tightened at the tale, the threads of connection between their past lives intertwining further. While he and Ruby had been granted a second chance through rebirth, Leo's story held a different kind of resurrection, an eerie and enigmatic return to life that defied explanation.
Aqua's mind whirred with the weight of this newfound revelation. The bond between him and Leo was deeper than he could have ever imagined.
Leo's gaze remained fixed on the distant horizon, his expression a mixture of contemplation and acceptance. "It's strange, isn't it?" he mused, his voice almost wistful. "But in the end, does it really matter? We're here, in this moment, together."
Aqua's eyes flickered, momentarily unsure of how to process Leo's unexpected response. He looked downward for a moment, his thoughts racing, before locking eyes with Leo once more. "Aren't you angry?" he inquired, a thread of apprehension weaving through his words as he broached the delicate topic. "Ruby and I essentially took the place of your original children."
This was a conversation Aqua had never imagined having, but given the circumstances, he couldn't shy away from it. He expected a surge of anger, perhaps even fury, from Leo. After all, he and Ruby had essentially replaced the roles of Leo's biological children upon their rebirth.
However, Aqua was taken aback when Leo's head shook ever so slightly, breaking his gaze from the horizon to focus on Aqua. "I'm not angry," he replied, a tinge of sadness underlying his words. "If anything, I'm grateful."
Aqua's eyes widened in astonishment, his mind racing to process Leo's unexpected response.
"I have a strong feeling," Leo continued, his voice tinged with a somber honesty, "that had you and Ruby not been reborn, Ai and I would have faced the tragedy of stillborn twins."
"What?!" Aqua's shock was palpable as he grappled with the weight of Leo's words.
Leo's eyes shimmered with tears that hovered precariously on the edge, his gaze locking onto Aqua's with a potent intensity. "In the wake of my own demise and subsequent return, I made a contract with a nasty devil—one with a nasty habit of knowing things it has no right knowing. Upon discovering Ai's pregnancy, the devil reveled in an unsettling, knowing laughter. Using a contact of mine, I called an all-knowing fiend, and she told me the hard truth," he paused, a lone tear breaking free from his eye, tracing a glistening path down his cheek. "Your heart wasn't beating, Aqua. Even after your birth, the original reality held – you were stillborn."
Leo swiftly brushed away the tear, determined to quell any further display of emotion. "And then, against all odds, your heart started beating," his voice wavered, laden with the weight of memories and emotions. "How can I be angry with someone who brought my son back to life?"
Aqua stood there, his heart a tempestuous sea of emotions, each wave crashing against the shore of his understanding. Leo's words had peeled back layers of reality, revealing a truth that reverberated with haunting significance. The weight of the revelation settled upon him, and Aqua's mind worked feverishly to grapple with the enormity of this newfound knowledge.
"I... I had no idea," Aqua finally managed, his voice a blend of awe and disbelief. His gaze remained locked on Leo as if seeking some understanding or solace in the depths of his father's eyes.
Leo's gaze softened, a tender smile tugging at his lips. "Yeah..." he replied, his voice a gentle reassurance. "Life has a way of fucking with us and bringing us together."
Aqua nodded his thoughts a swirling vortex of contemplation. The inexplicable bond that had always drawn him to Leo suddenly seemed rooted in a reality that defied explanation. The threads of their existence were woven together in ways beyond his comprehension.
"I don't carry any regrets for the choices I've made, Aqua," Leo continued, his eyes holding an unwavering resolve. "Life and death, they play their games, each move shaping a grander design that only becomes apparent over time, leading us to where we are now."
Leo tapped his chest lightly. "My heart and lungs are essentially on their last legs, I'm teetering on the end."
Aqua's heart tightened at Leo's words, a mix of empathy and concern coursing through his veins. He wanted to say something, to offer comfort or a solution, but his voice caught in his throat, choked by the intensity of the emotions swirling within him.
Leo's gaze shifted, his eyes meeting Aqua's with an unwavering intensity. "I've died once already, why should I be scared to die again?" he declared, his tone a testament to his indomitable will. "...But I do worry about my body though. I doubt Public Safety won't pass up an opportunity to tame what they see as an unruly beast."
Aqua's resolve surged within him, overcoming the initial shock of Leo's words. "You don't have to face this alone," he declared, his voice steady despite the storm of emotions inside him. "We can find a way, together."
Leo's eyes flickered a mixture of surprise and a hint of amusement dancing within them. "You're a good kid, Aqua. Far better than I'll ever be," he mused, a smirk playing on his lips.
Aqua managed a small smile, his resolve holding firm.
"Let's make a contract then," Leo declared.
Aqua's brows furrowed in confusion before his eyes widened in astonishment, his mind racing to comprehend Leo's words. "A contract? With me?"
leo nodded bringing his thumb to his mouth before biting the skin and letting himself bleed. The blood didn't get very far until it stopped mid-air and began to form a piece of paper in Leo's grasp. "I want you to figure out who I am after I'm forgotten, in exchange, I'll give you a fragment of the Contract Devil," he explained.
The paper in Leo's hand began to manifest writing, detailing the terms of their pact. Aqua's eyes widened further; this would mark his first-ever contract, an unexpected agreement with his own father.
Once the paper had inscribed the final word, Leo directed Aqua to present his thumb. Their thumbs met, a small incision forming on Aqua's digit, blood beginning to trickle.
With a final tear, the paper split in two, a fragment transferring to Leo's thumb while the other found its place on Aqua's. The contract had been sealed.
Aqua's spine tingled as the contract seamlessly merged with his bloodstream, and a surreal connection solidified. Despite the eerie sensation, a sense of pride swelled within him. Yet, his focus quickly returned to his father, observing Leo's struggling attempt to rise.
Filled with concern and urgency, Aqua hurried to Leo's side, only to find himself enveloped in a tender embrace.
"C'mon, let's get you home," Leo's voice was a soft whisper.
Aqua rested his head against Leo's chest, his ears attuned to the weakening rhythm of his father's heartbeat. With gentle strength, Leo scooped him up, cradling him in his arms as they began their journey back.
Amidst the hushed alleys and deserted streets, Leo bore Aqua's weight in silence, making their way back home. Aqua's fingers clenched and released the fabric of Leo's shirt, his every movement mirroring the ebb and flow of Leo's fading heartbeat. Each time it seemed to falter, a surge of anxiety would grip Aqua, only to be met with relief as the rhythm gradually resumed with Leo's steady steps.
Standing in the familiar hallway outside their apartment, Leo halted a few paces before their own door, gently lowering Aqua to the ground. The weight of the moment hung in the air, a mixture of emotions tugging at their hearts.
"This is it," Leo's voice carried a trace of both exhaustion and sentiment, the struggle evident as he fought off another cough. "I had imagined a more elaborate farewell, but maybe this isn't goodbye, after all."
Aqua, though his eyes were reddened by tears, managed a tender smile as he looked at Leo. "I'll do my best to honor our contract as soon as I can," he replied, his determination shining through. Yet, Leo gently shook his head, a touch of understanding in his gaze.
"Live your life, Aqua. You're on your way, don't let my death hold you back. The last thing I want to do is fade your shine," Leo's words held a gentle weight, his hand finding its way to Aqua's head in a comforting gesture. "Nothing lasts forever. Life doesn't stop being funny when someone dies, nor will it stop being serious when someone laughs, keep moving forward, Aqua."
Stepping back onto his feet, Leo rose from his kneeling position, a small object retrieved from his jacket now in his hand. Aqua absorbed his words, allowing them to settle deep within. A subtle jingle caught his attention as Leo revealed a simple keyring, two keys attached.
"Both of these places are like home to me," Leo began, his gaze holding a mixture of fondness and nostalgia, "but soon, I won't be needing these keys anymore. So, I'll let you hold onto them."
With those words, Leo extended the keyring towards Aqua, the keys letting out a soft jingle as Aqua took them into his grasp.
"Go on," Leo signaled, a faint smile gracing his lips as he gestured towards the door.
Aqua felt a mixture of anticipation and uncertainty as he inserted the first key into the lock, only for it to not turn. He tried the second key, and this time, with a gentle click, the door opened. Stepping inside, Aqua's gaze fell upon the familiar arrangement of shoes at the entrance – Miyako's elegant heels and Ruby's neatly placed school shoes.
"Ai must have had practice today," Aqua mused to himself as he walked inside,
Meanwhile, Leo leaned heavily against the doorframe, his pallor turning increasingly pale due to the loss of blood, his single injury now taking a substantial toll on his strength.
Miyako emerged from the living room, drawn by the sound of the door opening. Her gaze shifted from Aqua to Leo, her observation cutting straight to the point. "You look like someone ran you over," she commented.
Aqua tensed at Miyako's observation, but Leo managed a tired chuckle. "Long day," he admitted with a faint smile.
Miayko let out a weary sigh, her gaze flickering toward the interior of the house. "Could you do me a favor, Leo?" she requested, her tone tinged with both concern and exhaustion. "Check up on Ruby for me. She dozed off after you left but woke up in tears. She's been holed up in her room ever since, insisting she'll only come out if it's you. I'm not sure what's bothering her."
"Of course," Leo readily agreed, his voice tinged with worry, even as he discreetly coughed into his hand. His movements, though visibly weaker, held a determination that hadn't wavered. Slowly stepping out of his shoes at the entrance, he passed by Miyako and began his steady walk toward Ruby's room. The toll of his injuries was becoming increasingly apparent in his demeanor.
Leo's gentle knocks echoed against the closed door, unanswered at first. After a pause, a faint whimper drifted through the door.
Leo knocked again, his voice tender as he whispered, "Ruby..."
He heard the sound of a blanket falling to the ground, followed by hurried footsteps approaching. The door swung open, revealing Ruby's tear-streaked face. Leo instinctively crouched down just in time to catch her small form as she launched herself into his arms.
"What's wrong? What's got Amaterasu feeling down in the dumps?" Leo spoke in hushed tones, his fingers brushing back Ruby's hair as she clung to his jacket.
Her voice quivering, Ruby managed to speak between sobs, "Papa... Are you really here? This isn't a dream, right...?"
Leo held Ruby tightly. "Shh, Ruby," he murmured, his embrace offering comfort. "What's wrong?"
"Papa..." Ruby's voice wavered as she pressed her face against Leo's jacket.
Without further words, Leo lifted Ruby in his arms, her small form held securely against his chest. Carrying her, he stepped into her room, closing the door softly behind them to offer a sense of privacy.
Meanwhile, Miyako's gaze lingered on the scene, her expression a mixture of concern and curiosity. Aqua, his head slightly bowed, closed the front door with a heavy sigh.
Inside Ruby's room, Leo settled onto the edge of her bed, cradling his daughter in his arms as her tears fell. The strength seemed to wane from his features, his expression taking on a distant, almost hollow quality as his own energy dwindled.
Amid the soft hiccups of her sobs, Ruby's cries gradually subsided, replaced by sniffs and shuddering breaths.
"Papa..." Ruby's voice quivered, seeking assurance.
Leo's voice was a gentle murmur, a soothing balm for her anguish. "What's wrong, Ruby?"
Through her tear-strained voice, Ruby recounted the dream that had shaken her, fresh tears welling in her eyes. "I had a dream... I watched you slowly disappear, all that was left was a ghost of you."
Her voice trailed off into another round of soft sobs, her eyes heavy with fatigue as she clung to Leo's jacket as if his presence alone could dispel the lingering remnants of the dream.
Leo didn't offer immediate words, instead opting to comfort her with the steady rhythm of his hand rubbing her back. Gently, he lifted Ruby and arranged her on her bed, taking care to tuck her in with the fallen blanket.
"Papa..." Ruby's voice was a weary whisper. "You won't disappear, right?"
Leo's actions spoke his response, as he gently covered her with the blanket, leaving only her face exposed. His fingers brushed her hair aside, his touch a tender caress against her forehead.
Ruby struggled to keep her eyes open, her strength waning as she fought off sleep's embrace.
"You'll have to let me go, Ruby," Leo's voice was a soft breeze of words, almost carried away by the room's hushed atmosphere.
"Papa..." Ruby's voice trembled, her eyes heavy-lidded as she fought to hold onto consciousness.
"There's nothing we can do, just let me go we'll meet again soon," Leo's whisper was as gentle as the night's breath. He placed a delicate kiss on her forehead, his lips warm against her skin. "I'll see you when you fall asleep."
"Papa..." Ruby's voice was a fragile thread, her strength slipping away as she struggled against the pull of sleep.
Leo's final words were a soft promise that lingered in the air, a gentle reassurance as her eyes began to flutter closed. "I will always love you."
Leo's breath shuddered as he watched Ruby's peaceful slumber. He took a moment to steady himself, gathering what little breath his ailing body permitted, before easing himself out of Ruby's room, ensuring the door closed with a soft click.
In the hallway, Miyako stood, her concern palpable in the air. Her hushed voice barely broke the stillness. "How is she?"
Leo's gaze remained fixed on Ruby's door for a lingering moment before he turned his attention to Miyako. "She'll be alright," he finally replied, his voice carrying a mixture of reassurance and weariness.
As Leo started making his way toward the front door, Miyako followed, her posture tense. "And what about Aqua?" she inquired, her gaze probing. "He looked pretty down staring at the floor."
Leo sank down onto a spot in front of the door, beginning to put on his shoes. "He'll find his way," he responded, his tone firm but subdued.
Miyako's brows furrowed at Leo's cryptic answers, her frustration simmering just below the surface. She rubbed her temple in an effort to dispel her growing confusion and sighed.
Adjusting his shoes, Leo's foot tapped gently on the ground, his actions measured as he readied himself to leave. He pushed the door open, the cool breeze of the outside world brushing against his skin.
"Lock the door, please. I gave Aqua my keys," Leo's request was soft, an almost distant plea as he stepped out.
Miyako's eyebrow lifted in bewilderment, but she complied with Leo's wishes and made her way to the door. Her voice laced with curiosity, she couldn't resist asking, "Why did you give Aqua your keys?"
Leo turned to face her, a faint smile playing on his lips. "I'll be seeing you, Miyako," he offered, his response evading her question as he resumed his path down the corridor.
Miyako watched him retreat with a perplexed expression, her thoughts swirling in a whirlwind of confusion. "What on earth is happening?" she murmured to herself before finally closing and securing the door.
Walking down a desolate street, Leo veered into a narrow alleyway, his steps faltering until he leaned heavily against a wall. Exhaustion etched into every fiber of his being, he let his head rest back against the cold surface, his ragged breaths the only testament to his struggle.
Pausing to collect his thoughts, Leo withdrew his phone from his jacket, his fingers deftly navigating to Shouzou's contact. With unwavering purpose, he initiated the call, a few tense seconds passing before his cousin's voice echoed through the line.
"What's going on?" Shouzou's greeting held a touch of distraction, indicating he might have been in the middle of something.
"Shouzou, I need a favor," Leo's words cut through the pleasantries.
"What do you need?" Shouzou's voice was focused, the rustling of his meal in the background a subtle indication of his current activity.
"Tomorrow, I need you to announce my death," Leo's request was delivered with an almost casual demeanor.
Shouzou's pause was palpable, a beat of silence before he cleared his throat. "...Any reason why?"
"Things are going to get hectic real soon, Shouzou. I need to distance myself from my family as much as possible," Leo divulged.
"I see," Shouzou responded thoughtfully, his voice muffled momentarily as he tended to his food. "... Any specific preferences for when and how?"
"Tomorrow, late-night news. I've got something to handle, and I'd rather do it without too many prying eyes," Leo explained. "As for the details of my death... just make it cool and fitting. I don't really care."
A chuckle escaped Shouzou's lips. "You haven't changed a bit, always going for the dramatics. Alright, I'll get the wheels turning after lunch. Anything else you want me to take care of, dear cousin?"
Leo's chuckle echoed through the line, only to be disrupted by a sudden coughing fit. "Actually, yes. Tell the Blokes. Let them know that I might reach out to them later down the line. I don't want them to block my number, thinking I've kicked the bucket."
Shouzou chuckled, a note of concern underlying his amusement. "Consider it added to the to-do list. By the way, are you alright? That cough sounds pretty nasty."
Leo's reply was casual, even in the face of his predicament. "I've been better. Got a lovely new hole in my chest, lung, and heart are pretty much out of commission, but I'll die another day."
Shouzou's silence spoke volumes, his uncertainty was evident in the pause before he finally managed, "Well... you certainly have a way with words. Take care of yourself, Leo."
Leo's wry smile was audible as he retorted, "You too, Shouzou."
The call ended, leaving Leo to collect himself against the alley wall, his energy waning but his determination unyielding.
"You certainly have a knack for keeping life exciting, Leo," the ⬜⬜⬜ Devil's voice echoed in Leo's mind
"Shit's hitting the fan," Leo muttered aloud. "Gotta stay a few steps ahead."
"HAHAHA, are you really planning ahead? That hole in your back tells a different story," the ⬜⬜⬜ Devil taunted.
"I was putting on a show for my kid, didn't want to half-ass it," Leo responded nonchalantly. "Here's the deal, keep your mouth shut until I deal with Makima, and I'll have you whole again by tomorrow."
The ⬜⬜⬜ Devil suddenly went silent.
"Atta boy," Leo praised, leaning his head back against the alley wall. "Hey, Healthcare Devil, where's my new lung and heart?"
"You're on the waiting list," the Healthcare Devil's voice sounded in Leo's thoughts. "A new lung will be ready in an hour, but it might take some time before a heart is available."
"Tsk," Leo clicked his tongue in frustration. "I might as well use the Darkness Devil to heal my lung for now. But this seems like a good opportunity to get a new heart."
Engulfing his torso in Darkness using the Glass Devil's power, Leo suddenly found himself caught in a fit of bloody coughing. The sound echoed through the narrow alley, leaving behind the metallic scent of blood.
A drifting feather drew Leo's gaze upwards, where he spotted a plump black owl perched on a gutter, observing him.
Leo's lips curved into a smirk. "You'll do," he murmured.
"Human—" the owl began, only to be cut off.
"War Devil, let's make a contract," Leo's voice rang out.
"Hmm, do you even know who I am, human?" the owl, the War Devil, responded.
"In a manner of speaking," Leo retorted.
If the owl could grin, it likely would have. "And what sort of contract are you proposing, human?"
"Become my heart," Leo replied confidently. "In exchange for keeping me alive, I'll procure nuclear weapons for you."
The War Devil's eyes widened in intrigue. "How do you plan to achieve that, human?" it asked, curiosity evident in its tone.
"I'll have the Chainsaw Devil barf them out," Leo answered.
The War Devil burst into a fit of giggles, laughter echoing through the alley as it tumbled from its perch. Leo deftly caught the owl mid-fall, holding it by its wings.
"Quite amusing, human," the War Devil managed between chuckles. "Very well, let's strike a contract."
Leo gently set the War Devil down on the ground before shedding his jacket and button-up shirt, revealing his bare chest.
"Create an opening, human," the War Devil instructed.
Without hesitation, using the power of the Glass Devil, Leo made a precise cut on his chest. He used his hand to widen the incision, revealing his failing heart beneath.
The War Devil let out a delighted giggle at the sight. "I'm beginning to like you, human," it confessed before unfurling its stubby wings and taking flight. With a swift transformation, it merged seamlessly into Leo's exposed chest.
As the transformation of the War Devil into Leo's new heart concluded, he was left with a raw, open chest. A sensation of dizziness and discomfort swept over him, and he found himself leaning back, seeking a moment of respite.
"Blood," Leo requested aloud.
In response, the Healthcare Devil conjured a blood bag seemingly out of thin air, presenting it to Leo.
Using his teeth, Leo tore the bag open and began to drink its contents. Each drop of blood felt like a surge of revitalizing energy. He could sense his body responding, the wound in his chest rapidly closing, and the throb of his heart growing more powerful.
A deep, satisfied sigh escaped Leo's lips. The nourishment he derived from the blood was beyond anything he had ever experienced. "Gross," he muttered, a faint smile gracing his features as he tilted his gaze upwards to the overcast sky.
With a deliberate motion, Leo retrieved his knife from his jacket and gazed at his reflection in the polished blade. His own image stared back at him, altered by the recent events. A horizontal scar now cut across the center of his face and left cheek, an unexpected addition to his features. His once black eyes were now red, adorned with multiple rings within, reminiscent of Makima's unsettling gaze. Apart from these changes, his appearance remained largely unchanged.
"Huh," he muttered, his voice tinged with a mix of curiosity and surprise.
A/N: Holy shit, what a long chapter.