WARNING: The settings and almost all the characters belong to Squaresoft (but I wonder whether they'll want them back after what I've done to them...does that mean I get to keep them? Whoopee!). The only thing I'm getting from writing this fanfic is the experience.

DISCLAIMER: In this chapter; definite shounen-ai, yaoi implications, disturbing content and lots of angst. Squall finally comes clean, and I don't mean he gets in the shower with Seifer. Considering I knew exactly what was happening for a change this chapter was a bitch to write, partly because it ended up being 5500 words long. I hope you all think it was worth the trouble in the end. Blame me not for your nightmares...or his.

Darkened Sunrise

Chapter Thirteen - Of the Pale Criminal

By Persephone

Running the first questioning session was strangely difficult. They'd included some people who might have something to do with the leak, but for the most part they were dealing with known innocents and only anticipation of the next session kept them going. Laguna hadn't had a chance to ask Squall about the mission that had gone wrong and he thought Seifer hadn't either; the blond SeeD looked edgy and cross with his lover. Squall was quiet throughout the first meeting. He acted like he knew Seifer was angry with him but he hadn't the courage to ask why. Attributing a lack of courage to Squall was completely counter-intuitive. Just having to do it annoyed Laguna.

In the end the first group of agents filed out and Meiroth and two guards went to round up the second lot. It was an absolute miracle none of the suspects were currently out of town - but, then again, they were in the middle of a regular 'quiet period' when they could expect not much to go wrong. Brannard's death clearly fell outside the usual calendar of disruption. That made it almost certain he'd been killed because he knew too much. But Meiroth hadn't been able to work out what he could have discovered.

As the last of the EIC crowd rounded the corner at the far end of the passage, Squall suddenly turned to Laguna and asked, "Where's Ellone?"

"Home. Why?"

"It might be an idea to have her here." He didn't elaborate but Laguna knew what he meant. Ellone might be able to pick up when one of the suspects lied or evaded the question.

"I'll go - no, could you go get her? I've just got to go pick up some test results." The results of the DNA scan on Seifer's anonymous note, but he didn't want to tell Squall about it in case Seifer still hadn't let him know. And, by the way the two SeeDs were almost avoiding each other, he thought he probably hadn't.

Squall nodded and left. Laguna caught Kiros's arm. "I'll be back soon," he muttered. "Going to check on what we found last night."

"If everyone else gets here I'll keep talking till you're back." Laguna nodded and turned. The sight of Seifer standing in the doorway prodded at his mind; he gestured for Selphie to take his place and caught the blond man's arm.

"Come with me," he muttered. Seifer wordlessly obeyed. When they'd got to the elevator, a good distance from the conference room, Laguna asked, "How's Squall?"

Seifer glowered. "Saying zip. He was asleep when I got back and stayed that way till this morning."

"Really asleep, or pretending?" Laguna checked as the doors closed on them.

"Pretending for part of it." Seifer sighed. "If he keeps this up I'm going to slap him, but he'd never forgive me for that...aargh!"

"Just try and keep your temper," Laguna advised. The lift door opened at that moment. Seifer settled for a brisk nod, opening a path through the small group on the other side so Laguna could pass through. As the other people entered the lift Laguna looked back at the crowd; Meiroth, her guards and all of the eight agents scheduled to be in that interrogation session. Something had better come out of all this, Laguna thought. There's so much resting on it. We have nothing else to go on, and probably never will.

The scan had come up inconclusive. Laguna had expected it; thin paper didn't hold fingerprint traces easily. They probably wouldn't have got anything even if the guy had used a thicker brand of notepaper to write his little letter, unless he'd upgraded all the way to photograph backing. Still, something might come up, and the letter was useful additional evidence. Additional. Everything was additional, supplementary, interesting if you already knew everything else. But Laguna didn't know anything else and the whole thing was making his head hurt. Seifer was moody as well, and a moody Seifer was not someone Laguna wanted to spend time with. Seifer almost seemed to agree with him. He certainly didn't waste time hurrying back upstairs, leaving Laguna to trail after him wondering if anything would ever go right again.

When he got back to the conference room one look told him Squall hadn't returned. He left Seifer and Selphie arguing over the door position and left Kiros telling the agents a lot of garbage about what was happening, and started back towards the lift to chase up Squall. He got halfway to the elevator when the doors opened and Squall popped out, looking as moody as ever. And not accompanied by Ellone.

"Where's Elle?" Laguna asked as his son caught him up.

"Watching from home. Less obvious." Good plan, sure enough, but when Squall had started up a pattern of royally pissing off everyone in sight every little deviation from orders, even for the better, was incredibly annoying. Laguna grunted something he hoped sounded neutral, and turned to reenter the conference room.

He suddenly felt a tug on the back of his shirt. He stopped and looked over his shoulder. Only then did he realise the sound of footsteps behind him had ceased several heartbeats ago.

Squall was standing there, staring at nothing, his face as white as his T-shirt. "What's the matter?" Laguna demanded. "Squall -"

Squall took three steps backwards before colliding with a wall, propelling himself as far away from the door as possible. "I can't go in there." His voice was shaking. He glanced back at the doorway like he could see through the wall. "Don't make me. You can't."

Laguna felt something fluttering inside his chest. Fear? Incomprehension? "What -"

The hand that had clutched at his clothing moved to his wrist. "The man beside Meiroth." And the voice was of someone clinging to the edge of reason.

Laguna glanced back into the room. Kiros was blocking the doorway, gamely stalling for the President; Laguna could just see past him to Meiroth, sitting at the table flanked by a man and a woman, both of whom were with EIC. The man - Dayn Lamond - looked the picture of an agent, a very everyday person with nothing unusual about him at all. Not like his beautiful son who couldn't have held down a regular Intelligence job any more than he could have sprouted wings. He was way too distinctive to work undercover on anything other than an occasional basis.

What was so frightening about just another man? "Squall, what are you talking about?"

He stood frozen for another second, then inhaled swiftly and looked up at Laguna. "I need to talk to you." His eyes snapped up to Laguna's face, and although his voice was steady his eyes were no longer blue, but an aching shade of grey that shone with pain. "In private."

Laguna glanced down the corridor. "There's a men's room along here." He took Squall's arm and pulled him along, irritated with his son's dragging feet. Hell, he was irritated with his son, period. This was important and Squall was risking messing up the whole thing.

He scarcely checked that the bathroom was empty before he rounded on Squall. "What the hell's got into you? This had better be very important. You know how badly we need to work out which three of those five people did it!"

"He did it."

Laguna stared. "Who? Lamond? The guy sitting with Meiroth?"

"Yes. It's him. He's one of them."

If he knew... "Why didn't you say so before? How do you know? You'd better have some evidence for this; we can't just grab him because you're pissed off at him."

"I heard him. Talking to someone. I didn't know it was him..."

Squall was actually trembling. Laguna went up to him; he flinched away. Laguna bit down on the anger and frustration. "What did you hear Lamond saying, and when, and to whom?"

"He was working undercover. Infiltrating a terror group. He was asking the gang leader what he should tell the Intelligence Corps."

That wasn't so much suspicious as damning. But... "How come I've never heard this before?"

"I never told anyone."

"What? You idiot! When was this?"

"Almost a year ago," he whispered.

Laguna stared at him. Almost a year. All those dead agents, all those screwed-up missions, all the things that had gone wrong. All the things Squall could have prevented by speaking up. "Why not?" he asked in a completely flat voice. "And this had better be very good."

"I wasn't sure - I thought I'd imagined it - I didn't know the guy, I didn't even know the group was being infiltrated, I should have known - but then I saw him just now and I knew he was real..." Squall's voice trailed off. He was clenching his fists, digging his nails into his skin so hard he drew blood. Laguna's rising fury began to be touched just a little by concern.

"Squall?" he asked, more cautiously, drawing closer to his son again. "What made you think you were imagining it?"

"I was - I was almost unconscious - I..."

And now concern was shaping itself into full-blown fear. "What happened?"


"Tell me, Squall."

"I can't - oh, my god..." He pressed himself up against the back wall of the bathroom, one hand covering his mouth.

Laguna tried to think rationally and failed. After a moment he got hold of himself again. "Squall, just calm down and talk to me." The memory of what Seifer had told him the night before stirred. "Was this something to do with a mission you were on? A mission that was sabotaged?" A nod, a frantic one. And Squall's eyes were open again, staring at something Laguna couldn't see, pupils wide with terror. "Squall? What happened?"

"They - it was just an accident - I slipped, I broke my ankle. Couldn't move...I called for help...never came. Just them. They took me..." He trailed off again.

The enemy tapped into the EIC's radio signals... "The terrorists you were after intercepted your SOS call? And they - kidnapped you?" Another nod that gave the impression of barely contained sanity. "But you were set free -"

"They did an exchange for two of their scouts," Squall whispered.

"But you heard this conversation between Lamond and the rebel leader before you got out. Why were they talking in front of you? Squall?"

"They thought I couldn't hear."

"Why not?" Laguna breathed. "Had you passed out from the broken ankle?"

Squall squeezed his eyelids together. "They wouldn't stop hitting me..." His voice had dwindled almost to nothing. "Kept on - kept on - and they - no..." He covered his face with his hands. Laguna dragged his wrists down when he started clawing himself with his fingernails. "I didn't want - didn't want to do it! They said - they made me..." He shied away from Laguna's touch. "Get away from me!" he shouted, backing into a corner.

"Squall," whispered Laguna, slowly approaching him, coming closer without touching, "did they rape you?"

Squall covered his face again. "I let them..." He slid down to the ground, curled in on himself. "I didn't want to do it!" he sobbed, the ache in his voice mirroring the one in Laguna's heart. "They said I did - they said I was - I..."

"No!" Laguna choked, pulling away with rapidly rising fury. He literally saw red. He wanted to hit something, to kill someone. "How could they do that...you, you...?" He couldn't speak, couldn't say another word. Squall seemingly couldn't either; he wrapped his arms round himself and started to cry.

"'M sorry," he mumbled between sobs. "I didn't mean to..." Laguna stared at the pathetic bundle on the floor and hated himself for shouting, for not comforting Squall like he should. He bent over and put a hand on Squall's shoulders; the boy pulled away violently, like he was afraid to be touched. Like he hated himself, like he thought he'd been the betrayer that day...

"It wasn't your fault."

It was the first thing that came into his head. For a second he thought it had helped; Squall's head came up and he gazed at Laguna with something like hope in his eyes. But then the light faded. "They said - said I was asking for it - called me a slut - I don't - no-one'll believe me...I'm sorry, I'm so sorry I did it..."

"Listen to me, Squall. They weren't telling the truth. They did something terrible to you; don't you think people like that would have lied?"

Squall didn't even seem to have heard him. "I'm sorry - everyone - Seifer - I didn't want him to hate me - he'll leave me -"

"No, he won't. He loves you, Squall."

"He'll stop," Squall wailed. "He'll hate me when he -" He broke off, squeezing his mouth shut with a whimper.

"When he what? When he hears about this?" Squall nodded, then shook his head like he meant something else as well. "What is it?"

Squall shuddered convulsively. Laguna couldn't blame him; he was trembling himself. "The note..."

"Someone sent you a note, a letter? And you didn't tell anyone about that, either. Why? Because of what it said?"

Squall's mouth moved but no sound came out. Laguna dropped his head so Squall could whisper straight into his ear if he wanted. After a moment he caught in his breath and gulped out, "There was a - a picture..."

He trailed off and started sobbing again. Laguna clenched his teeth. "Hyne..." he whispered. Just the idea of how much Squall was suffering made him want to cry. He didn't stop to think, but knelt down and pulled Squall into his arms. For a second he stiffened, then he collapsed against Laguna.

Laguna stayed there, his arms wrapped round his weeping son, reining in the anger that only burnt hotter and hotter. An image crossed his mind, of Squall helpless and hurt and frightened, powerless to stop what was happening to him. He'd kept silent for eleven months... "You should have told somebody."

"Th - they'll hate me, they shouldn't like me, I don't deserve it anymore..." Hyne, but the boy had a one-track mind. Laguna pulled Squall closer, running a hand through the feather-soft brown hair. What were you supposed to say when your grown-up, self-possessed son goes almost hysterical from rape trauma? Laguna wanted to scream, but Squall was the only person within range and he couldn't let the poor boy take Laguna's anger personally. He'd done too much damage already.

He settled for rocking Squall gently in his arms as he would if it were Storm stuck in the waking nightmare, whispering the same meaningless words to such a similar shivering body. After a few minutes he thought Squall had stopped; but when he tried to get Squall to stand up and go somewhere more comfortable, the tears started again. "I'm not going out there with all those people!" Squall almost shrieked. "I don't want to see anybody!"

But you can't stay here all day. But I have to go and get Lamond arrested. "Stay here just a moment," Laguna compromised, getting up and running to the door. Three guards were patrolling the corridor; they looked up, startled, when Laguna burst out of the bathroom. Before they could ask him what was wrong Laguna cut in, "You two, clear this corridor and shut off the lift for my personal use. You," and he gestured to the remaining soldier, "go to the conference room and tell Selphie Tilmitt to come here. Quickly." The three men hurried off. Within a few seconds Selphie came skidding up to Laguna.

"What's happening?" she demanded. "Kiros is making things up but he can't keep going forever. What are you and Squall doing?"

"We've - well - found out something important. I'll be along soon. Meanwhile, go back there and don't let anyone leave that room for any reason, however good it sounds. Got that? Not Kiros, not Ward, not Seifer, not anyone. And you and Seifer and the guards should watch out for trouble."


He hesitated. "We've got one positive ID."

"That's wonderful! Oh. They'll make trouble."

"I guess so. Like I said don't let anyone at all out until I get back."

"Where are you going?"

He glanced back into the bathroom. "Squall's not well. I'm taking him home."

Selphie looked disapproving. "He can go down one floor on his own."

"Not this time, he can't. I won't be more than a couple of minutes. Just tell Kiros there's been a development and get him to keep stalling."

She wrinkled her nose, but nodded. "He'll want payback later."

"I doubt it, when he hears what's going on," Laguna muttered. When she looked up at him like she wanted to know more, he shook his head. "Go." She obeyed him at once. Laguna didn't watch her go, but went back to Squall immediately.

"There's no-one outside anymore," he told the still-tearful young man. "Come on. I'm taking you to your room so you can go lie down. Elle'll come and talk to you till you feel better." He waited till after he'd got Squall to his feet and halfway to the door before adding, "And I need to see the picture they sent you."

As he'd predicted, Squall stopped in his tracks. "No!" he exclaimed, a catch in his voice.

"It's important. I promise I won't show anyone who doesn't need to see it. But there might be prints on it. You did keep it, didn't you?"

"Yes," he admitted, sniffing. "But...I wanted you to like me." He whispered the last bit, his head hanging.

"I still will."

Squall shook his head vigorously. "Not when you see - what I -" He stopped talking again like he couldn't bear to say another word.

Laguna told himself to be very, very patient. "Squall, you're my son and I love you. I know you didn't want to do whatever they made you do. I'll still love you, even when I see it. OK?"

He held Squall against him for another second. Eventually Squall admitted, "It's in my bathroom. But -"

"No buts." Squall was still crying, only a touch less bitterly than before. He couldn't even walk in a straight line. Laguna ushered him out of the door and along to the lift.

When they reached the lower floor Ellone was already waiting outside Squall's room. Laguna got the impression she'd figured out something was wrong but not what. Squall probably wouldn't thank him for telling her anyplace where he could overhear the conversation. He shook his head at Elle to tell her not to ask. Whatever the reason, she kept quiet about it, just opening Squall's bedroom door and wrapping an arm round him as Laguna led him over to his bed.

"Just sit down for a while," Laguna told him in a tone that didn't allow for arguments. Squall obeyed, shivering again. Elle dropped down beside him and pulled him into her arms.

"Hush, my love," she whispered, just as if he were her son. "I'm here, it's OK."

"Sis..." Squall whispered between sobs. "I'm sorry."

"I don't mind. Just relax." She looked up at Laguna; 'What happened?' she mouthed.

"Later," Laguna muttered. Out loud he said, "I'll be back before too long." He left them sitting together and hurried back upstairs.

When he reached the conference room it was fairly clear he wasn't flavour of the month. Meiroth, three of the agents and even one of the observing Army brigadiers were demanding to leave. Seifer was glaring alternately at them and at Selphie, the visible cause of the problem, who was blocking the doorway with her hands on her hips. "Sir Laguna says you're not allowed to go!" she declared, probably for the umpteenth time, as Laguna came up behind her. "It's very important!"

"You keep saying that," one of the angry agents - Melanie Hadham - said icily to her. "If you'd just be a little more specific -" She broke off when she saw Laguna. He was furious and knew he looked it. That might have been why all the five agitators shut up and sat back down.

Laguna pushed the door shut, almost trapping Seifer on the wrong side, and locked it behind him. "Mr President," Kiros said with that look on his face that said If there isn't a really good reason for this you're dead, "may I ask why -"

"Because part of this isn't necessary anymore." Laguna reined in his temper and turned to Lamond. Had he hurt Squall along with his rebel friends? The thought threatened to make him lose control. "Dayn Lamond, you're under arrest on charges of treason. The rest of you will need to stay here for a few hours while we search your premises, I'm afraid." And he didn't sound apologetic at all.

Kiros's jaw dropped. Meiroth took in a quick breath like she wanted to say something, but couldn't work out what. Seifer came up beside Laguna, one hand on Hyperion's hilt, when it looked like Lamond was going to overreact. In the end the man settled for staring at Laguna in apparently innocent shock. Laguna turned to the senior Security man. "I need search warrants for all these agents' homes and offices. Seifer, let him out." The two men looked at each other, and then Seifer unlocked the door and the Security guy hurried off.

Kiros finally found his voice. "Can I just ask what's changed?"

"We got some new evidence. Kasha, I need a word." He scooped up Lamond's file from the table and leafed through it. He didn't remember there being anything in the file about an infiltration mission at the time Squall had indicated, and he was right. But now he looked at the sheaves of paper there was something strange about the record for the month in question. The paper wasn't quite as worn as the copy for the two months immediately afterwards. Almost like it had been written later.

He closed the file and, when Meiroth had reached him and he'd pulled her into a corner out of the way, he said to her, "Can you remember what Lamond was doing eleven months ago?"

"Yes, but -"

"Have a look at this and tell me if you think it's right."

She stared at the file he was holding open in front of her. "No. There's a mission missing. But I ran through every file in the department last month, when I realised something was the matter. It was accurate then."

"I wonder if it got changed because it was Squall who turned up to investigate?" Laguna clenched his fists and told himself he couldn't hit Lamond until everyone else knew what he'd done. That made him remember how much Squall apparently didn't want anyone at all to know part of what the guy had done. Sorry, kid, Laguna thought. Some of this is going to have to come out in the wash. Specially if we need to do a check on that photo you've got stashed away.

That thought made him feel sick again. He realised not only Meiroth but Kiros and Ward were looking at him strangely. "What's the new evidence?" Meiroth asked in an undertone.

"Squall saw him on the missing mission, acting very suspiciously. Just now he recognised him; he hadn't seen the guy's picture in records, or this might not have had to happen." Laguna swallowed, told himself that was all that needed to be said right now. But Ward and Kiros knew there was something he wasn't saying. He prayed they realised it wasn't his secret and didn't try to pry it out of him.

Seifer was something else. He had a right to know. But Squall didn't want him to...this was getting way too complicated.

Laguna's mobile rang. "Not now," he muttered, glancing at the display to see who was calling. He almost rang off before he realised it was Ellone. Couldn't she wait for him to come back to her and Squall? He pressed the call button; "What is it?" he demanded.

"Laguna?" She sounded strained. "I think you and Seifer need to come down here. Squall's locked himself in the bathroom and he won't come out. He keeps saying he's going to kill himself."

"Shit," Laguna muttered. "OK, we're on our way. Try and calm him down." He turned to Meiroth. "Have a look through the other files and see if anything else has changed. You two," and he turned to Kiros and Ward, "get Lamond taken into custody and start questioning everyone else. Don't let them go for any reason till we get back."


"Me and Seifer."

"Why me?" the blond demanded.

"Squall needs you."

"What's wrong?"

Laguna hesitated. "I'll tell you later. Just come with me." He went over to Selphie's post by the door. "Squall's not coming back. You're in charge of security. Keep everyone here till the questioning's over."

She nodded, looking uncharacteristically subdued. "What's up with Squall?"

"He had a nasty shock." He didn't say more, but led Seifer out of the room.

Seifer looked worried. Well he might. "Why won't you tell me anything?"

"Because Squall doesn't want people to know. You'll have to wait till we're out of the way of the security cameras." He nodded and subsided. A harsh look played in his eyes. Laguna watched him and wondered if, in all his present fantasies of what might have happened to the man he worshipped, he had hit on anything near the truth.

Squall's bedroom door stood open. A Palace medic and two guards were clustered just inside the doorway; Ellone was blocking their path to the bathroom, looking angry. Laguna pushed past them and went to her. "He was stable enough when I left. What happened?"

She looked abashed. "Partly my fault. He started having hysterics and I called for a doctor to give him a sedative. He went ballistic when the doctor came in."

"He attacked me!" the medic interrupted. "And when Mrs Loire intervened he locked himself in there." He pointed to the bathroom door.

"He's not thinking straight," Laguna told the man. "He's frightened of strangers. It'd be best if you left."

"If he's that disturbed he really should be sedated."

"I'm not going to hold him down for you. Look, you three need to wait outside while we get him out of there."

"If he attacks you -" one of the guards began.

"He won't." And Laguna was confident of that. "I'm not going to frighten him." The unwelcome trio hesitated a moment, then left Laguna, Elle and Seifer alone.

Seifer broke the developing silence. "Why -"

"Let's get Squall out of there first, OK?" The younger man couldn't argue. Laguna went up to the door and knocked lightly. "Squall?" He could just hear his son's muffled sobs. "They've gone. It's just Seifer, Ellone and me now. Can you let me in?"

For a second there was no sound at all from inside the room. Then he heard footsteps padding across the room and the lock clicked. Laguna waved the other two back and slipped inside.

Squall was waiting there, head hanging like he thought Laguna would be angry with him for pulling a stunt like that. He was wiping the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand. Laguna had not only never seen him look so defeated, he'd never imagined it was possible. He took one glance at the disassembled razor resting on the sink, pushed the door to behind him and gently wrapped Squall in his arms. "It's OK," he murmured. "Doesn't matter that you panicked. But if you can tell me why..."

Squall shuddered under his hands. "They're still here," he choked. "They're dead but they're still here unless I think about something else. I see them every night; I can't keep them out while I'm asleep. Then when those people came in - I can't do it anymore..." The words dissolved into fresh tears.

Memories. Elle. Maybe she can help him stop remembering so much. Laguna dropped a light kiss onto Squall's forehead. Some selfish part of him didn't want the spell to break because under normal circumstances Squall would never even let him touch him. Pushing that thought away, Laguna prompted, "Squall, the picture?"

Squall tried to calm himself down a little. He actually made it back to the stage of looking like a kicked dog. "Down there. In one of the boxes." He gestured towards a small heap of prescription drugs on the floor by the sink.

"Thank you." Laguna drew him back into the bedroom.

Elle and Seifer had taken up a temporary perch on the edge of the bed; Seifer jumped up the second he saw Squall. For a second Laguna thought he would cause an outcry and just make everything worse; then the SeeD controlled himself and took his lover from Laguna. His eyes spoke volumes but all he said was, "I'm here, Squall; I'll protect you." Squall folded up in his arms. Seifer half-carried him to the bed, whispering endearments in his ear the whole way. Laguna watched until he was sure Squall was relatively settled with Elle and Seifer fussing over him, then picked up Squall's gloves from the dresser and retreated into the bathroom.

Laguna pulled on the leather gloves, squatted on the floor and opened the closest box; all he pulled out was a sachet of pills. The next few he tried also came up blank, then he realised Squall wouldn't have stuck the picture in the top and started looking through the lower ones. He glanced at the drugs as he was tipping them onto the floor. Antidepressants and sleeping pills. He made a mental note to remove them from the bathroom. Garden's doctor had had the right idea, but as long as there was even a faint chance of Squall attempting suicide there was no way the stockpile could stay.

He opened another box and shook it hard. The expected pill packet dropped out. Wrapped round it were a scrumpled-up photograph and a scrap of notepaper. Laguna reached out for the photo, but hesitated. Squall really hadn't wanted him to do this. He steeled himself and straightened out the folds in the picture.

A wave of nausea hit him and he had to force himself not to tear the thing to pieces. He'd guessed it was a picture of his son being sexually assaulted but he hadn't been prepared for this. Squall was straddling a bench, tied to it so tightly that the wire bonds were cutting into his flesh. One man was viciously raping him while another forced him to perform oral sex. A third held his mouth open so he couldn't even bite his attacker. His eyes were screwed shut and tears were pouring from them, dripping down his face to mingle with the semen already streaking it. His skin was streaked with blood and even in the cheap photograph Laguna could see heavy bruises beginning to form.

Laguna let the photo flutter to the floor, tears collecting in his eyes and Squall's words echoing in his mind. "They called me a slut..." If they'd really made him believe this was his own fault -

He reached down and picked up the picture, again resisting the urge to rip it up, and set it face down on the washstand. Slowly stripping off Squall's gloves, he walked to the door. Squall was still crying, nestled in Ellone's arms with Seifer gently stroking him. All three glanced up when the door opened. Laguna passed over Squall's frightened look and Elle's anxious one, and said, "Seifer, I need a word."

"Don't!" Squall cried involuntarily.

Laguna tried to raise a reassuring smile but couldn't. "He won't hate you."

"Of course I won't," Seifer scoffed, kissing Squall as he stood up. "I'll come back in a moment." Squall tucked his head under Ellone's chin, clearly unconvinced, as Seifer went over to Laguna.

Laguna held him back for a second. "Leave your gunblade in here."


"Just do it." Seifer shrugged, dropped the four-foot hunk of black steel on the floor and followed Laguna into the bathroom.


(to be continued...)

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