If asked, Leon would say that he no longer wonders what happened to the people he knew from before the Heartless; it's been over a decade, he has new friends and responsibilities, and mourned their loss long ago. Except it's not true. He does still wonder.
He wondered when Sora first turned up in Traverse Town, so very determined to search for his friends. He wondered if any of his friends were searching for him, or if he should be searching for them, but there was so much to do with more worlds disappearing each day. And Traverse Town was the best place to look for anybody, because it was a crossroads of sorts: an odd collection of fragments gathered in one of the cracks of reality, a place where people from all kinds of different worlds washed up in the wake of destruction. And a place where people routinely stopped when travelling between worlds, because it wasn't easy to find skilled Gummi ship mechanics.
He wondered when the worlds were restored. Maybe now that so many people were returned, he could find them - except not everybody did return, and not all worlds were whole. There was still so much work to do, and he was needed; but he still wonders every time he sees someone he knows meet someone they knew from Before.
There's never been any word of anyone he knew, though, and while he wonders, Leon stopped really hoping long ago.
That doesn't explain why the mention of a single name in passing makes him feel like his whole world has fallen in on itself again.
It's just one of Sora's stories about his travels, the Keyblade Master chattering away happily about some kind of sports tournament in Twilight Town, and Leon was only listening with half an ear to begin with. He's not the only one. Kairi and Aerith look interested, Cid's too busy cursing the computer under his breath, and Riku has an indulgent smile on his face that says Sora could be talking about algebra, and he'd still be smiling. Only Sora wouldn't be talking about algebra so cheerfully, because Riku's tutoring is the only reason he's not horribly failing the subject - something he heard about at length the first day of Sora's visit.
He almost misses it entirely, and then he doesn't ask because he's too stunned to do so.
" - and this other kid, Seifer, he -"
There's surely more than one person in all the worlds named Seifer. It's probably not him. But he wonders, and finally, later that night, asks Sora.
"Seifer?" Sora looks at him in confusion. "I don't know him all that well, or anything. I mean, I mostly hung out with Hayner and Pence and Olette, and they don't seem to get on with Seifer and his friends."
"Friends?" Something tightens inside him, and he feels as if he can't breathe properly, but that's just foolish.
"Yeah, he's almost always hanging around the Sandlot with Fuu, Rai and Vivi. He likes Struggle a lot, and I have to admit, he's pretty good at it."
He has no idea who Vivi is, but how many Seifers can there be with best friends named Fuu and Rai? Fuujin and Raijin were always there Before, either with Seifer or two steps behind, a solid counterbalance to Seifer's wilder impulses.
He rubs a finger over the scar on his face. Most of them, anyway.
But Sora called him a kid, and that's not right. Seifer's the same age as him. It has to be coincidence, must be somebody else. There's no point wondering over it.
It's several weeks later, with Sora and his friends returned home to finish out the school year, when the subject comes up again. He's sitting at the table in Aerith's kitchen, eating the stew she's made for dinner, when she asks, "Is something wrong, Leon?"
There's nothing wrong, at least he doesn't think so, and he looks at Cloud for support. Cloud looks down at his bowl, and keeps eating.
"I've noticed that you're a little distracted lately, and wondered if there was anything we could do to help."
"I'm not distracted."
There's a small sound from Cloud, and he looks at the blond, but Cloud's still pretending he's not taking part in this conversation, even if he's just insinuated Leon's not telling the whole truth of the matter.
Only, it's Aerith that he's talking to, and that sets him to wondering again. He knows from something Cid said in his cups one night that Aerith died before their world was destroyed by the Heartless, and that she was about 21 when she died. Everybody from her world remembers that, yet Leon remembers her as a teenager, and as a girl before that, back when they first met in Traverse Town. It doesn't make sense, should be impossible, but if one impossible thing is true, then maybe -
"Sora mentioned somebody that I think I might know from... Before." He doesn't have to say before what. There's only one 'Before' that matters.
"Oh, but that's wonderful! It's the first time you've ever found somebody from your own world, isn't it?" Aerith's voice is warm and happy, because she's good at looking on the bright side of anything. Leon thinks it's a way of counterbalancing Cloud and himself, has teased her about it whenever she's scolding him for being too serious.
"It's probably not the same person," he points out. "It's probably just someone with the same name." And knows what she's going to say before she says it.
"Don't be such a pessimist! You don't know that! And," her smile taking on that extra brilliance that says she's just decided something for his own good, "you won't know until you go and find out." There's no arguing with that smile, but Leon tries anyway.
"I have too much to do to go anywhere."
"Nonsense! We'll manage just fine without you, for a short time, anyway. And you work too hard. You should take a break for once."
"I take -"
"A break that doesn't involve pounding on other people at the Coliseum."
Leon enjoys pounding on other people at the Coliseum, as does Cloud, but that's not an argument he's going to win either. And as he usually does it for the money he can earn, most of which he then pours straight into whatever the Restoration Committee's current project is, it's probably not the best argument he can make, anyway. But he still enjoys it.
He changes the subject. Aerith can't make him go, after all, and maybe it will just be forgotten.
He finds out the next day that Yuffie knows, because she greets him with an enthusiastic hug and a cheerful "Congratulations!", and he can't quite get through to her that he hasn't found anybody, not yet, and he's probably not going to. Cid informs him gruffly that he's making sure one of the Gummi ships is stocked and ready to go, and Tron has a file on Twilight Town downloaded and waiting for him.
His trip to Twilight Town is arranged around him, without his consent or approval, and Leon finds himself boarding the Gummi ship a few days later, with stern instructions from Aerith not to come back for at least a week. He protests, and she changes it to two.
At least, he decides as he prepares to launch, if he doesn't find anything he can always stop by the Coliseum and sign up for the current tournament.
Twilight Town is a world that officially doesn't know about other worlds, but sees a lot of traffic anyway. Apparently, all kinds of people turn up for the Struggle tournaments. Add in its proximity to the World That Never Was, and Twilight Town has been a veritable hub of inter-world travel recently.
But when Leon disembarks at a small hangar hidden neatly behind the train station, he can see why it's still oblivious. The station apparently acts as an explanation for the appearance of any visitors, and then the town itself has an aura of peacefulness and resistance to change. Leon, who remembers what small towns can be like, is willing to bet that every day here is just like the one before.
He asks a local for directions to a place to stay, and finds himself caught in a conversation that lasts nearly half an hour. Not that he has to say anything, just make an occasional sound indicating interest or agreement. Among other things, the old man informs him that the local kids have all gone back to school, and that's a good thing because some of them can cause real trouble over the break.
If Seifer were here, Leon thinks, he'd be one of them. Although Seifer doesn't always see his particular brand of trouble as a bad thing.
Finally he manages to get away, and checks in at small inn just off the Town Square. It's late afternoon, and there's nothing else to do, so he decides to take a look around, and find this Sandlot that Sora mentioned.
It's not hard.
He hears it before he sees it, as it's long past the point where school would be out for the day and apparently its a favoured hangout for more than just Seifer and his friends. Shouts and cheers drift towards him, and above it, a loud taunt that catches his attention and makes him quicken his footsteps.
"Hayner, my grandmother could hit harder than that."
"You don't have a grandmother."
"If I did, she'd be hitting harder than you are, chicken-wuss."
The voice doesn't sound quite like he remembers, but it's been such a long time that he doesn't trust his memory there, and the words are definitely familiar. It's close enough that he expects to see someone he knows when he steps out into the open space of the Sandlot, half expects Seifer to turn around and call him Puberty Boy, even though he's long since past that.
What he finds stops him in his tracks.
A muscled teen wearing a sleeveless white coat and a knit cap pulled low is fighting a blond kid with short, spiky hair, armed with only the padded blue bats Sora had told him were used in Struggle matches. That almost makes Leon laugh, because Seifer always hated to spar with anything but live blades, and his fingers reach towards the scar on his face as if in remembrance. But he can see blond strands poking their way out from under the cap, and something in the way he moves is eerily familiar. Then a particularly hard blow towards his opponent's midsection has him turning in Leon's direction, red balls scattering across the arena, and Leon feels as if it's his stomach that's taken the hit.
There is the scar he remembers, as pale and faded as his own, but it is jarringly wrong on a face that's only seventeen. When they were seventeen, that scar was still red and angry and relatively new. When he looks harder, the face is wrong, too. Too young, yes, but he'd already known that from Sora. This kid looks like the Seifer he knew, but somehow younger than he can ever remember Seifer being, even when they were kids. It's not as easily definable as a difference in his features; it's something in his expression, his eyes.
"Dammit, Seifer," the spiky-haired kid - Hayner - gasps, winded, "you're gonna pay for that!"
"Yeah, you and what army?" Seifer retorts.
It's not his Seifer.
Leon leaves quickly.
The bell on the tram clangs loudly as it rumbles past, and he looks up, realising that he's just standing there in the Town Square. He doesn't know how long he's been there, but the light has changed again, shading towards evening, and the shops are closing.
Feeling oddly heavy, he makes his way back to the inn.
Lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling, Leon wonders when he started taking on Aerith's optimism, because all along the voice in his head said that he wasn't going to find the Seifer he knew. Thinking about it, it only makes sense; if this Seifer is younger, if he doesn't remember everything they went through, how can it be his Seifer?
Aerith remembers things from her previous life, but Aerith has a way of knowing things, so that doesn't mean much. From what he's heard, she had a way of knowing things even before she died the first time, so there's no reason it should be different now that she's come back from the dead. Leon's always taken a fairly hands-off approach to the people he knows, because not everybody is comfortable talking about Before, but now he wishes he'd asked Aerith questions, enough to understand how it could happen: how she can come back from the dead and be someone else at the same time she's the same Aerith that Cid and Cloud knew Before. Enough to understand how this kid who looks like Seifer but isn't can even be.
When he thinks about it objectively, the fact that this Seifer doesn't remember isn't a bad thing. He knows from things that Rinoa let slip that their life Before was unusual, as such things went. The orphanage wasn't all bad - at least from the little he remembers. He wasn't particularly happy there, but that was more to do with Ellone leaving than anything else, and Seifer always adored Matron. Garden and SeeD offered distractions in the way of training, and he'd been grateful for that. But normal teenagers weren't supposed to be training to kill things, be they monsters or other people, and he understands that, even if he can't really picture it in conjunction with himself.
This Seifer is a normal teenager - at least, as most people define such things. He hasn't had to grow up too fast due to the demands of a mercenary education and war.
That, to Leon, is the best thing about the situation. (The only good thing, his cynical side whispers, and doesn't it burn to try and find something positive in all of this?) This Seifer doesn't remember what it was like to fall under the control of a Sorceress, to betray everything and everyone you knew for her sake only to discover that you've been tricked by someone who never cared for you in the first place. Leon remembers Seifer in the wake of the Sorceress War, how the brash attitude didn't quite cover the haunted look in his eyes. He can't feel bad that this Seifer doesn't have that look.
And really, it's not like he and his friends never forgot anything before. Memories were simply something they gave up in return for the use of Guardian Forces, sacrificing a portion of their own minds to house the powerful spirits that allowed them to fight with a strength greater than their own. There are whole chunks out of his early life that Leon doesn't recall at all, even now.
Despite that, there's something that tightens his chest and makes his stomach twist uncomfortably. It's easy to think that it's okay if Seifer doesn't remember him, but it doesn't quite match how he feels right now. Seifer wasn't exactly a friend - many things, but nothing so simple as that - yet he was still one of the few constants in Leon's life before the Heartless came.
He'd tried to put some distance between himself and his former life, but while he's changed his name, other things are harder to let go. He still fights, still takes on too much responsibility because he has to do something or spend too much time dwelling on what he's lost. But Leon never meant to let go of it completely; he'd just needed that distance to cope.
It's not easy being forgotten when he still remembers. Leon wonders if the others forgot him, too, and that was why nobody ever came looking for him. Even though it wouldn't be the first time, he feels curiously adrift, as though his very existence is made tenuous. While there are people who know him now, friends and allies and even enemies, it's as if his life Before never existed. As if he didn't exist before the Heartless.
Just a few more people forgetting, and it would be as if he never existed at all. A subtle warping of reality as he knows it, the tether cut, and nothing to hold him anywhere any more.
He can't quite help a brief, wistful thought about having access to Guardian Forces once again, so that he, too, could forget, and as soon as he follows that thought to its conclusion, he comes down on it hard.
None of this matters, because that's not the Seifer that he knew.
His world has been gone a long time, and he has a new home, now. He has work to do, and if something happens, he'll deal with it then. There's no point living in the past. Leon closes his eyes, and wills himself to drop off to sleep.
Tomorrow, he'll leave for the Coliseum, busy himself with the tournaments and physical combat, which is always straightforward and familiar and satisfying. And when Aerith and the others ask, Leon will tell them the truth.
He didn't find anybody from Before.