The POV shifts in this chapter from Edea to Squall and back to Edea again. It should be fairly clear. Squall's bit is purposefully very incoherent. I hope you don't find it so confusing that you stop reading it...comments on the layout, as well as the content, would be welcome.
My editor was furious with me when she first read this. I was aiming for less graphic content but it kind of didn't come out that way. Oops. I doubt Seifer and Squall are too pleased with me either. Still, it's written (after a week and a half...). RL is getting a little annoying, I'm afraid, which is why my post rate is decreasing. For some reason people keep expecting me to balance work, sport, parties and job-finding AND write at the same time. It sort of isn't happening.
Warning: Shounen-ai, angst and all the other things we like. And one incredibly pissed off blond Adonis. Yummee.
DISCLAIMER: I'm kind of running out of clever things to say... the setting belongs to Square, the story doesn't. Will that do?
Chapter Seventeen - The Stillest Hour
The sun was setting. The mountains bled in the waning light. Seifer's shadow, thrown out behind him onto the outer wall of the airstation, hunched over him like some monster waiting to strike. It was almost fitting, given that the dark demon of his temper had always been there, hovering nearby, waiting for the moment it would take him over.
Edea didn't deny Ultimecia had been drawn to his capacity for producing major and concentrated bursts of violence. Unlike him she hadn't had the luxury of a brain wipe during the time that the insane sorceress had had hold of both their minds. She'd watched as he and Squall tried to tear each other apart. She'd been more hurt than she could ever say by his disappearance after the war. She would not lose him now, certainly not by letting him indulge in a temper tantrum over the assault on his lover.
Seifer had finally caught them an empty lifter; Edea scrambled on after Quistis - another one of her children who was currently looking uncharacteristically upset. Zell, in contrast, seemed more angry than anything. Seifer was brooding again. Edea touched his hand; he jumped, and started trying to pay attention.
The ride to the Palace took no more than five minutes. As soon as the lifter stopped Seifer jogged off to the entrance. When Edea, Quistis and Zell caught him up he was still talking with the guards.
Seifer turned to Edea. "Access restrictions. We should be OK'd in a moment or two." As he spoke the squad commander moved off a little way, talking into his radio in a desert Estharian dialect. A few seconds later he waved the group past the cordon, into the Palace.
"Where are we going?" Quistis called to Seifer over the whistle of the entrance lift.
"Squall's. Someone there'll be able to tell us what's happening." He glanced at Edea. "What's wrong?"
She didn't know if she could put it into words. "The building's upset. Something bad has happened. Is happening, will happen. I don't know what -"
"- but we can all make a few suggestions," Seifer finished.
The lifter whooshed and slowed. It came to a halt, humming and hovering a few inches off the floor. Seifer dismounted without hesitation, leading the way past two more patrols' worth of immobile soldiers to the central corridor network. Few people roamed the corridors. Those who did were almost all in uniform and spared few seconds to look over the strangers heading for the private wing.
Seifer brought them up short next to a glass elevator. "There's too many lifts in here," Zell muttered. "Can't stand the things."
"You want to take the stairs?" Seifer said snidely. "It's only thirty floors. Nice bit of exercise for you." Zell scowled but didn't reply.
The lift decelerated and the doors slid open. Edea followed the three SeeDs out into a wide carpeted corridor that curved with the swirl of the Palace's walls. Selphie was slumped on a couch halfway down, her weapon almost falling from her hand and her eyes drooping shut. Kiros was leaning against the window next to her, looking out at Esthar, swinging his katals in one hand and idly tapping them against his thighs. Laguna was pacing the corridor with a sleepy little boy on one hip and a machine gun on the other. The guards that infested the rest of the Palace were absent.
Selphie looked up as the newcomers approached and tried to appear more alert. She managed to go from looking asleep to looking depressed. Kiros spared them a nod; Laguna stared at Edea with such a beseechingly hopeful expression on his face that her mood almost lightened. The child - who couldn't have been more than three - just scowled and hid his face in Laguna's shirt, clutching at a soft toy.
Seifer pushed his way to the front. "He's no better?"
Laguna shook his head. "He won't even sleep. We don't want to push him into anything but -"
"- but this is beyond ridiculous," Kiros finished. "He's too frightened to heal."
"We'll see about that," Edea said, touching Seifer's shoulder and giving Selphie a smile before going to Laguna. She addressed the child in the President's arms. "Hello. You must be Storm." He glared at her again, almost mimicking his elder brother's usual attitude, but nodded. "You aren't very happy. Why not?"
He squirmed a little, frowning again. "Mummy's not here."
"Mummy's with your big brother."
"Daddy said," Storm sniffed.
"Did he say why?"
"Said Squa's sad. 'M sad too. Want Mummy and Daddy and Squa'."
"Well, we're going to see if Mummy can cuddle you both."
She took Storm from his father, who muttered, "Might be a bad idea."
"Storm won't upset him. Will you?" Storm shook his head vigorously, starting to suck one of his fingers.
Zell was scuffing his toe against the ground. "Can we...?" He pointed to Squall's door.
"Wait till Edea's seen him," Kiros advised. "Give them some space first. You should settle into your rooms while you have time."
"Maybe." He cocked his head at Selphie. "You on duty?"
She nodded. "But there's guards in the next corridor."
"Screw that. I'll come take over in a moment." Selphie half-smiled.
Kiros led Zell and Quistis off to find bedrooms. Selphie stared expectantly at Laguna, who turned back to Edea. "I don't know if you'll be able to do anything. Elle's at her wits' end working out how anyone could help him."
"I've half an idea. It depends on exactly what he's doing to himself. But from what Seifer said I can guess how he's shut Ellone out and I might be able to bypass it."
Laguna pushed open the door. "We may as well try." He took Storm back from Edea and gestured for the sorceress to precede him into the room.
The lights were dimmed down to an orange glow that spilt out from embrasures in the four corners of the room. Ellone was sitting on the edge of the bed, her whole carriage drooping, her hands still playing along the back of the bundle huddled against her side. She looked up as Edea came towards her. There was no surprise in her face and little welcoming pleasure. She just nodded to the woman who raised her and turned back round. "You've got a visitor, Squall," she said softly, the illusion of calm in her voice shaking a little, just a little.
The young man twitched, unfolded himself just a little and raised his head. His eyes, dark and bloodshot with tears, widened. "Matron?" he gulped, his voice trembling.
Her first thought was that this couldn't be Squall Leonhart. Squall, afraid? Of something that wasn't even in the room? But, Edea reminded herself, that was part of the problem. Categories like 'here' and 'not here' had lost their meaning for him. "I'm here to help you, Squall." She waved Ellone back to her husband and took the girl's place. Behind her she felt Laguna relax when Squall didn't pull away at all. If nothing else he would allow her to try to aid him. "Do you think you can tell me what's wrong?"
Squall shuddered. "They won't stop hurting me," he whispered. "I think they've stopped, then they start again. I want them to go away. They won't."
She slid her arms round him. She could feel the turmoil in his mind from here. "I might be able to make them go away. If you'll help me."
He nodded at once. There was more trust in his face than she had seen in fifteen years. It was born of desperation, she knew. "How?"
In answer she stroked his cheek, at the same time stroking his mind with hers. She could feel the enhanced mental faculties of his old bond with Rinoa - and the places where the inbuilt defences of the Knight had meshed with his trauma, trying to shut it out. His instinctive attempt to blot out the horrible memories was backfiring. Instead he was forcing himself into a losing confrontation with them again and again.
If she rifled through the memories and temporarily stopped him from being able to access them, she might break the cycle. At the very least it would give them all a short respite, the time to make a permanent barrier of positive emotions in his mind.
"Just hold on a little longer," she told him. "The next time they stop, I won't let them start again. Then you'll be able to sleep. You'll feel better for it."
"No!" Squall breathed, stiffening up again. "They're always there when I'm asleep."
"They won't be this time." She sighed. "You don't have to sleep unless you want to and you can wake up if you don't like it. How about that?"
"OK," he gulped, nestling back against her. Before she could get a hold on his mind he jumped. "Hyne, not again, I can't stand it..." he whispered.
"I'm here, Squall." She touched his forehead and sank into his thoughts.
The shock slams into him, pinning him to the dirt more securely than the pain. And it's the wrong kind of pain. He can feel the twisted, shattered bones; his body has let him down for the first time that he can remember. Should he cure himself and face a surgical rebreak? No. He hates invasive medical procedures.
He will call the base. The line is crackly. Is it even working? He can't see straight, and it's misty anyway, so he can't tell them where he is. But with the blessed tracking chip sewn into his trousers...they'll find him.
To crawl for shelter or not to do so? He tries to move. Bad idea. He decides not to do it again.
He waits for a long time. It's getting dark. Someone is approaching at last. From...the wrong side?
Voices. Exclamations. Two men he doesn't recognise, not wearing army uniforms. The machine gun swings towards him. The finger clutches round the trigger. He bites his lip.
A hand fastens on the gunman's arm; a word of restraint rings through the air. The gun falls towards him. He feels a pain in the head; then he feels nothing.
Nothing becomes something. Blackness, more blackness, but his eyes are open and there is a spark in the void. Then movement, voices. Anger.
He's done something wrong. He doesn't know what. They think he knows.
Pain in his leg. Tries to move it. Can't. Then they hit him. More pain.
"Where is it?"
"The tracker, the fucking tracker! Tell us!"
Close eyes. Wait. Another blow lands. Go away, you shits, let me alone.
Bleeping of detectors. Hands pulling off his jacket and trousers. Sound of tearing leather.
"Got it." Crunch of metal.
Hard fists pounding him. Try to cover head. Arms won't move. Why not?
Something heavy this time. Metal bar, swinging into his side. Coming down on his fingers. Pain.
"Don't kill him. We're missing Sharo and Clark."
Smell of whisky. Blood in his eyes, in his mouth. Hand in his hair, turning his head. Can hardly see the man. Just the smile.
"In't he pretty?"
"Sweet little girl."
"Bet you twenty he puts out."
A touch on his skin, pressing into the bruises, sliding under his boxers.
"Wake up, lovely. Say hello to us."
"Come on, pretty-boy, don't be shy."
More hands, slithering over him. Touching private places. Lifting him. Hurting him. But the arms work now. Must try to get away. Try. Go on, try.
Hanging in the air. Hard thing under his chest, parting his legs. Tight tugs at his ankles. Hands on his wrists. Must get up. Can't. Hurts too much.
"Open your mouth."
Have to keep it shut have to have to have to
"Didn't you hear me, you whore? Open your fucking mouth!"
Don't have to breathe it doesn't matter anymore just keep it out
Hands tug at his hair and fingernails dig into his legs. Crack of a belt lashing his backside. Again and again and again, till the heat turns into a burn. Then it stops. Hands on the sore place. Pulling him open.
Pain biting into him. Hard dry shaft tearing him apart. He tries to push back, do something, anything. It just hurts more. He screams. Laughter, louder than before.
The man behind him grunts. Animal. That's all that one is. "Yeah, go ahead and wriggle. It turns me on."
Something touches his cut lip. He bites his tongue, pulls his face away. A hand slaps his cheek and a fist hits his nose. Doesn't hurt anymore. Not like the blaze between his legs.
"Suck me, damn it!"
And then the fire's exploding in his face too and his jaw slides sideways and he opens his mouth, he can't help it, and the penis pushing against his lips slides in and he doesn't want it there but he can't move his head because someone's holding his hair
"Bite me and you die, bitch, I mean it," and the thrusts in his ass get deeper as the ones in his mouth start. He's going dizzy. He wants to pass out. He can't.
Hot, gooey spurt, deep into his bowels. The limp dick pulls back. It's over. Then another hand grips his buttock. He tightens. Tries to keep the next invader out. Not enough. The penis forces past his opening. Bigger than the last. More painful. He tries to cry out. But he's gagged now. By a man's organ.
"Yeah, you love that, don't you, slut?" More sniggers.
The other cock drives into the back of his throat. He chokes. Air. Now. Need it. Can't breathe past the thrusting, stinking thing. It gets wilder. Harder. Then it pulls out and releases into his mouth.
It's horrid. Disgusting. He spits, retches - vomit tastes better than that - but another man grabs his head. "Throw up on me and I'll kill you, I'll fucking kill you."
Nightmare. Time and time again. Won't stop.
"Look at him cry!"
"Think he wants it?"
Humiliation. Try to be calm. No reason to be calm. That's six.
"Yeah. Flashing us like that. He asked for it, all right."
"You hear that, beautiful?"
"You don't -"
"Never seen him."
Can't breathe. Can't...
"What about the EIC?"
"What do you want me to say?"
He's on the floor again. Legs, arms, both tied. There's a cloth across his eyes and another one in his mouth. Tastes bad. Not as bad as - that other stuff, that's all over his face now. Wasn't there when he fell asleep.
His nose is blocked. He can hardly breathe. He tries to spit out the gag. It won't go away. Everything's quiet. No-one to help him.
No-one to hurt him.
So much pain. Too much.
Creak. Swish. Thud-thud-thud. Must be footsteps.
There's a draft on the back of his thighs. Drying the sticky mix. Someone walks round him. Bends down. Takes away the horrible cloth.
No, he isn't. He doesn't want to be. He gurgles as he tries to breathe.
There's a finger in his mouth. There's something in his mouth that he didn't put there. He wants to bite. But it's getting out the clotted blood, the vomit, another of the teeth. It's helping him to breathe. To live.
A snort. Insulting sound. "Look at yourself. Disgusting, I call it." The boot prods his sore head. Then kicks his back. Lightning runs along his side, up to his head. He feels sick.
Hands knead his abraded mounds. A finger presses into him. Sound of a zipper. He sobs, just once. Not again why again what did I do wrong
"You're going to give me some. Aren't you? It's all for me, this time." The man pulls him out of the puddle of blood and piss. Makes him crouch.
One thrust. Bestial invasion. "Good little boy. Open wide for me." Pain in his gut, tearing scabs open. A hand rips out another handful of hair. The other closes tight on his chest, below the nipple. He's pushing harder.
"That's it. Thaaat's it." No sound but their flesh slapping together. Then: "Huh. Take this while you can. No-one'll have you again after us. You're nothing - aah - nothing at - all."
He's lying. Must keep some self-respect. Have to.
I'm Squall Leonhart, Commander of Balamb Garden, SeeD Rank A.
"Some pretty-boy. You're so fucking ugly now, you know that?"
I saved the world. I'm a hero. A Sorceress's Knight.
"You're just a cheap tart."
I'm not what he says I am.
"That's why you're here. You're nothing but a screw-up. You deserve to get screwed."
"Don't know who'd trade for some worthless shit like you."
I'm Squall Leon-
"Not unless those toffs in Esthar want you bent over their desks. You're sod all use for anything else."
I'm Squall -
"You're - not even a - ooh - good fuck."
Exit as swift as the entry. Hard kick to his side - hardly hurts. Steps, fading away. Slamming door.
I am -?
Edea raised her head from his and stared down at the young man in her arms. He was shivering and drooping, but he wept no longer. She ignored the tears running down her own cheeks and lowered him to the mattress. "Sleep now," she whispered to him. He made a tiny noise that might have indicated assent, his eyes shut the whole time.
She started trying to work a cover out from underneath him. Ellone and Laguna materialised behind her before she got too tangled; Elle wrapped her arms round Edea while the President tweaked the blanket over his son. Edea squeezed Ellone to her, hoping the younger woman would have the sense not to access Squall's memories now. She'd always been too curious for her own good.
Squall's breathing evened out into a sleep pattern. Laguna stayed sitting at his son's side like he didn't remember how to move. Both he and Edea started when Storm exaggeratedly tiptoed up to him, dragging his toy lion behind him by one leg, and peered over the edge of the bed at his slumbering brother.
He tucked his hand into Laguna's. "Why's Squa' sad, Daddy?" he asked in a child's loud whisper.
"He was thinking about being hurt," Laguna evaded, lifting the boy onto his knee.
"Oh." Storm tilted his head to one side, still watching Squall sleep. "Why didn't he stop?"
"He couldn't till someone helped him."
"Oh." He seemed bemused. Well he might.
Ellone released Edea and tried to look busy. "C'mon, Storm. Bedtime."
"Wanna stay here!" he protested.
"A few more minutes won't hurt," Laguna intervened. He kept his head averted but Edea caught the glint of tears on his eyelashes. If Elle had seen, she made no sign, but she stopped trying to take Storm from his father.
After a moment he moved Storm off his lap and turned to Edea. "We've got to talk to the others. If there's anything you can tell them -" He stopped like he wasn't sure if he should have said anything at all.
"Not much, but I need to be sure they're not going to upset him." She looked down at Ellone. "He still shouldn't be left alone overnight, but you're exhausted. I'll stay with him, if you'll watch him for a few minutes while I see the children."
"Seifer'll be here. Are you sure you have to?"
"If he relapses I can deal with him without hurting him. Seifer would have to use force and I don't think he'd want to. He'd do more harm than good by not interfering." And there was the added little thing that, the way Squall had been feeling all day, waking up with a man in his bed and no-one else around was the last thing he needed.
"Griever's gonna stay," Storm chipped in. "He says so. And he's big and strong and he'll look after Squa'." He tucked the stuffed lion under the blanket, next to Squall's curling arm. He looked so absurdly satisfied with the arrangement that Edea had to smile. Laguna grinned and kissed Storm, ruffling his hair before moving away.
Sparing one backward glance for Ellone and her son, Edea followed Laguna out of the room. Kiros was alone on the couch in the corridor. "They're talking in Selphie's room," he was saying to Laguna.
"Thanks. Look, call Ward and get him to reactivate the regular patrols up here. You can turn in as soon as someone else gets here."
"I'll do that," he muttered. "This has been one hell of a day." Laguna nodded, half closing his eyes, and let his shoulders droop as he went to the next door along the hall.
Selphie's muffled voice answered Laguna's knock. He opened it and gestured for Edea to precede him into the room. Seifer and Quistis were sitting together on the floor with their backs to Selphie's bed. Zell was half-heartedly shadowboxing near the window. Selphie, dressed only in pyjamas, lay sprawled on her bed. Her feet hovered near the headboard and she was massaging Seifer's shoulders. All four SeeDs looked up at the newcomers; Seifer looked about to ask a question but Laguna cut him off. "He's asleep. He should be OK by morning, but Edea'll stay with him all night to be sure." The blond man covered his face with his hands for a moment. Quistis touched him gently; he put an arm round her without looking at her.
Zell stopped bouncing around and sank down into Selphie's armchair. "We've been talking," he said, gesturing to the others. "We're going to make Squall take things easy for a while even if he doesn't want to. We don't mind picking up the slack."
"You do that." Laguna scowled. "And if he does fight his way back in, keep him off the Intelligence side of things. He might find it as embarrassing as hell, and I don't want him having to try to cope."
"Meiroth got back to you?" Selphie asked, levering herself out of a horizontal position. He nodded, but didn't elaborate.
Quistis was looking up at Edea and biting her lip. "Matron - why did he never say anything?"
What a question. She let her mind drift back to the cacophony of thoughts she'd felt on the edge of Squall's mind. "He felt - humiliated - by what happened. He thinks a lot less of himself for it and he didn't want you to think less of him as well."
"How could he - never mind," Zell muttered.
"That is so like him," Quistis reflected, leaning her head on Seifer's shoulder. Her summer blue eyes were dark with pain. "I just can't believe - I never - I thought there might be something wrong, but I never dreamt it was anything serious. I thought he was just being -"
"An iceberg?" Zell suggested. "A depressed iceberg? Yeah, he gave us enough clues, but -"
"If you had half the clues he gave me, Chicken-Wuss, I'd kick you halfway to Trabia," Seifer snapped, his eyes blazing with fury. Almost like he realised he was going too far, he coloured and backed down before Zell had time to take offence. "There's - things he doesn't like doing," he said more quietly, with eyes lowered. "Sexual things. And places he doesn't want me touching him. The whole thing never made sense and I was going to ask him but -"
"But you never got round to it," Quistis finished. "Like the rest of us."
The silence lasted a long time. It seemed like no-one wanted to move. But then Selphie jumped up on her bed and declared, "OK, that's enough kicking ourselves. Now we're going to organise Operation Cheer Up Squall."
Seifer looked up at her, incredulous. "Have you put speed in your coffee again?"
She scowled at him. "I'm serious." She slid down to the floor. She seemed determined to negate her height disadvantage by thinking big. "You," and she prodded Seifer in the chest, "are going to have a day off tomorrow and spend the whole time fussing over him. We," and she pointed to herself, Zell and Quistis, "are going to do lots of nice things for him like bringing him breakfast in bed with ice-cream in the morning and getting him presents to stop him being bored when we're not letting him work. You can fuss over him too, Matron, and make him play with Storm because he won't let him be upset. And you," and she turned to Laguna as and afterthought, "can be in charge of everything and make him not work if we don't want him to. It'll be great."
"Selphie," said Zell carefully, "I don't know that it's a good idea -"
"Of course it is. You'll see. Now you can all go away so I can get some sleep." She flashed a smile at them before batting her hands to clear them from her room. With another long look at her, her three fellow SeeDs complied.
Laguna and Edea glanced at each other. If Selphie had intended to cheer up or at least distract everyone except Squall, she'd succeeded in at least one respect; Laguna's expressive eyes were glinting with hope instead of tears. "Goodnight, Selphie," Edea restricted herself to saying, and led the President outside. As she closed the door she started wondering if Selphie was quite as optimistic as she was pretending to be.
Squall's door stood open. Ellone was leaning against the doorjamb, looking exhausted but amused in the bright fluorescent lighting. Seifer, Quistis, Zell and Kiros were clustered around her, peering into Squall's room. She looked up at Edea and Laguna, raised a finger to her lips and beckoned them over with it. "Take a look," she breathed.
Edea stuck her head round the corner. Squall was still asleep with the stuffed lion jumbled in his blankets, but now Storm lay flat out alongside him, clinging to his arm, their puffs of breath coming in counterpoint. "I can't move him without waking one of them," Ellone admitted.
"Then come back for him tomorrow," Seifer shrugged. "We'll manage for one night." He cocked an eyebrow at Edea. "I'll stay awake for a few hours, then you can take over watching him towards morning. He probably won't wake up until then. It tends to be later on he gets nightmares."
"If you're sure about that, that's the way we'll do it." She kissed his cheek briefly before moving away, drawing Zell and Quistis with her. "I'll see you in three or four hours."
He managed half a smile, the first light expression she'd seen on his face all day. "Sleep well." He gently pushed Ellone back and closed the door behind him.
(to be continued...)
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