Darkness enveloped his vision as the distant chirping of a machine buzzed in his ear. He could hear the sound of carts rolling and people chattering in some separate room, and the air smelled sterile. It was... different from before. There weren't any explosions surrounding him, war cries filling his ears, or the smell of gunpowder in his throat—the air smelled sterile instead of iron. His face didn't feel wet with blood and tears anymore. In fact, his entire body felt clean and comfortable as he pressed against a firm but gentle bedding. What was this feeling?
When all of these things enticed his senses one by one, Leon eventually came to, finding himself inside what felt like a brightly lit room. He was lying in a bed by a window, a curtain sealing him off from the rest of the room, and thin white sheets covering his body. There was no doubt that he was in a hospital right now, and judging by the scenery outside, it was a building farther from the border. How long had he been unconscious? All he could remember was that he was fighting some impossibly powerful Pergrandian, and then... right.
With his head laid on his pillow, he rolled it over to find the familiar face he was hoping to see. Sitting next to his bed was none other than Percy Dagger, alive and well from what it looked like. That was good, and frankly, that was all that mattered, because Leon couldn't remember what had happened after he blacked out and briefly feared the worst. Here his love was, obediently stationed at his side as he laid in bed. Though, Leon couldn't sport a smile. He couldn't make any face at all, really. His marigold eyes were droopy and tired, and the neutral frown on his face was unreadable and indifferent as he quietly recalled everything and sifted through his thoughts.
After reassuring himself that Percy was alive, there was something else he had to check. Slowly, he glanced at his left arm. You couldn't tell that there was anything wrong just by looking at his upper arm, but as he slowly raised it above the sheets, the reality of it all become frighteningly clear—he had a prosthetic limb now. With a surprising amount of calmness despite the throbbing in his joints, he held his arm out above him without a dent in his expression. The moment he noticed his arm, it immediately felt off, but instead of playing with his new body, he simply lowered his hand onto his lap and stared out the window.
Their seven days of service were up, and it only cost an arm and probably a concussion, and he couldn't even imagine what the real consequences were for Percy. Leon couldn't even look him in the eyes when he woke up, only silently acknowledging his presence before thoughtfully staring out of the window. It wasn't that he wasn't feeling immense guilt, tremendous relief, or terrible shock right now. He could already feel the trauma of the events simmering in his chest, but heavy thought seemed to suppress every other emotion right now. All he could do was reflect quietly.
His first and only love was only a few feet away from him, but this was surely their last interaction before they went down separate paths. Percy would return to his lonely and productive lab, and Leon would... what would he do? If his grandfather would permit him to return to the family, which would likely happen after his sacrifices, what was in store for him? Now that he thought about it, just what exactly was he fighting so hard for?
For nineteen years, he had wanted nothing more than the approval of his family. Everyone and his ancestors had been walking down the same path for generations, and he was willing to do anything in order to walk that path as was intended for him, as a Hoffman. He hadn't thought about whether it was something he felt personally fulfilled by, or something that truly made him happy, or something that he actually wanted... it wasn't like he had anything or anyone else. What would make him feel whole, if not for his birthright? Who else would love him if not for his family? What would give him purpose if not for the only thing denied to him? At the end of the day, it didn't matter if he was some CEO's private military officer or some social media influencer's glorified coat rack, as long as he was able to walk down the path laid out for him, he was happy.
But that wouldn't make him happy.
Being banished to Fiore easily felt like one of his greatest failures and biggest regrets at the time, and for most of the year he spent there, he continued to feel that way. But the moment he went to that Singles event, everything changed. When he got a job as Percy's assistant, he found something he actually enjoyed doing. He got to see new places, try new things, meet new people, buy a small house, get a dog, help people, fall in love... things that he never thought he'd want. He missed all of it. He missed the people who saw value in him as a man, as a friend, as an adventurer, and he missed the life he was beginning to build for himself as he broke down his walls. For a while, he had completely forgotten about his obligations to his family. For a few months, he woke up excited for the life he had made for himself. The moment he received that phone call to return home, a part of him felt... disappointed. Sad. Distraught. Crushed. It was like the world noticed that something made Leon Hoffman feel whole, and so it must be taken away. But now that he was here at the end of his journey with Percy, he felt so dumb. Why did he go through all of this just to stay away from the people he actually cared about? The person he would ride or die with? Why was he trying so hard to choose his terrible family over himself for once?
"...What the hell am I doing here?" Leon mumbled into the window, a weary look on his face. It might've sounded like he was confused like he was wondering why he was in a hospital. It would make sense considering he blacked out on the battlefield, but he really just ended up mouthing his own thoughts. Why was he here when he only wanted to be by Percy's side? Why did he make them both go through such trouble just for him to stay away? That's not what he wanted at all, so what the hell was he doing here to begin with?