Disclaimer: Squaresoft and a whole bunch of other people I can't remember own the boys, while I'm just a harmless hentai ~_^

Battle Grounds: Courage, Friendship, and...

By BlackRose

Ask me about time compression. Go ahead. *Ask* me. I'll tell you. If you're an adrenaline junky, you would have loved it - better then the best damn roller coaster you've ever been on. Me? I like my feet on the ground and the ground to be solid. I just wanted *off*.

I don't remember saving the fucking world. I remember light, and heat, and a whole world of hurt. And falling. Fuck. Free fall through heart warm water filled with the brush of wings and half remembered things and images flashed like nightmares across the backs of my eyelids. The human mind is not damn well meant to do that, if you ask me. Time and memory, past, present, future; we fell through it all and I couldn't tell you even half of what I saw.

We touched each other, closer then babes in the womb, in some sort of language we'll never duplicate, not by speech or touch or any human means. I knew them, I could feel them - Selphie, her memories tinged with the warm exuberance of her personality; Quistis, cool and clear as a mountain runoff stream. Squall was sharp and distant, Rinoa warm, and Zell like a flash fire, the flickering spark of electricity. I wondered what I felt like to them. I reached out as we fell and I brushed them all - hopes, fears, dreams, memories, a cacaphony of images and sensations spread out under my grasping fingertips like glistening bubbles. I was Selphie in the winter, snow fairies falling in a dance from the slate grey sky. I was Zell, laughing beneath the sun in the salt spray of the beach. I was Rinoa, swept up in a dance, smiling up into bright green eyes... I was Quistis; the feel of a kiss, soft lips... I was Squall...

And then we broke through the bubbles and fell into nothingness.

Light. Grey. Featureless. No up, no down, after images flickering at the corner of your eyes like thousands of ghosts. But we weren't falling and I could feel the others, like hands clasped in the darkness, almost voices. "Is it over?" I called, and my own voice was lost in the light, deaf in my own damn ears. "We have to go back!"

For one moment I could hear nothing but my own heart, fast and frantic, and then their voices came floating back to me in bits and snatches, drifting. "Careful, guys!" "Don't fall..." "Pick... time..." "..think where we have to go..."

No. No, not "where". *When*. We needed a when. We needed to choose. The voices of the others faded away, spiraling off, and frantic became real panic as I grasped for something to take me back where I belonged. Home. I needed to go *home*, but the images slipped through my mind like sand through my fingers, flashing past too fast to fasten upon. Orphanage, beach, sand, waves, fields, plains, Garden, Galbadia, no, too far back, don't leave me here, don't fucking leave me here! Where... when... I reached out to the others, grasping, feeling my own memories, the things I had prized most, slipping away from me to leave me with only the empty unformed nothingness all around.

Familiar eyes, familiar faces - //oh Hyne, they don't remember, why don't they remember?// - stock of a rifle against my shoulder, trigger under my finger, bright lights, the pound of drums - //no, please gods, don't make me do this, I can't// - flare of cure, heat of magic, the high as it streams from your fingertips - //the price we pay, losing ourselves, casualty of the war, will I even know when they're gone?// - adrenaline, sharp and hot, motions in perfect rhythm, swing, punch, aim, fire, reload, three bodies, one fight, perfect unison - //beautiful, so fucking beautiful, get up damn you, live, together, we do this *together*...//

Close. So close. I needed a ground, an anchor, anything... oh Hyne... where is 'home'?

//Don't leave me here!//

"It's all about love and friendship. And having the courage to do it!"

//Oh gods, don't leave me...//

"...love, friendship and courage..."


"...friendship and courage..."

//Selphie! Quistis! Squall! Take me with you... flashes, too fast, here and gone, no, don't leave me... falling... plains, beach, too far back, too far forward...//

"Love, friendship..."

//reaching, grasping, anything...// Lips under mine, the dark taste of earth and velvet unknown, sharp tang of thunder, lightning and the storm, sparks in crystal blue eyes...


"For luck."

The world turned inside out and took me with it. Falling, nothingness, lost, alone, plummeting down with the wind in my ears and stinging at my eyes. Everything, everywhere, nowhere, nothing, all at once and never again and... and...

"Reflect on your sensations... your words... your emotions..."


...and the world turned itself right side out again.

Ground under me, sky over me, fresh air in my lungs. It was all I could feel for long moments and it was more then enough. Real. Reality. Solid. Thank Hyne.

The details came more slowly. Shifting ground... sand. Sand under my shoulders and the sound ringing in my ears was water, the rush and shushed slide of waves on a beach. Sand, water, beach, clear sky shading into afternoon above my aching eyes... where?


I was struggling up onto my elbows when he dropped down beside me, his steps digging up sprays of sand. Gloved hands caught me, tight and hard, and the blue of the sky was replaced by bright blue eyes. "Irvine! You all right?"

I coughed out some sort of affirmative noise before I could really think about it and his voice was relieved. "Oh, thank Hyne..." The slick fabric of his jacket was under my grasping fingertips and then, before I could draw breath or gather up all of the pieces of myself that felt out of place, his lips came crushing down on mine.

It was just like I remembered, just like the first time. *Better* then the first time. The taste of him, the feel of him, lightning and sparks on his tongue...


He broke away, eyes bright and grinning broadly. "We made it!" he caroled, and the fire of life was in his voice and breath. Pulling back, he pointed to something over my head that I had to lean too far back to see. "Matron's house, the orphanage..." He let out an excited yell, fist punching the bright sky above. "We fucking MADE IT!"

Our time, our place... home... *him*...

Zell scrambled to his feet, his laughter ringing loud and clear. I could only drop back to the sand, soaking in the feel of the earth beneath me and the sky above. This... this was where I belonged. This is what had brought me back.

I closed my eyes and stretched my arms wide, my own laughter joining Zell's in pure, unashamed relief.

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