Author’s Notes: Desperate for feedback!


Chapter 9 - At the Gallows

By Ashi

I wake slowly from a half-remembered dream, its details fading as my surroundings resolve into a scene I should know.  Above me, rusted ceiling lights whir tiredly.  And from my side, so close I jolt in surprise, there’s a low, satisfied chuckle.

Before I realize what’s happened, I’m flipped over on my stomach, my arms wrenched above my head and cuffed together at the wrists, a large weight straddling the small of my back. 

“I’m glad you’re awake—I was getting impatient,” he murmurs near my face, and the familiar smell of stagnant cigarettes and liquor permeates my numb senses, a cold knot of fear settling fresh in my stomach.  His hands rove down my sides as he shifts backwards, and I squirm beneath him; he laughs, grinding against my naked flesh until he breaks off in a low, throaty moan.

His bulk disappears with a suddenness that doesn’t comfort me—I know he’s not going anywhere.  Seconds later his hands have returned, clutching my hip-bones and jerking me upwards so I’m spread on my knees, and any vagueness about his intentions disappears—he’d never wasted much time. 

“You know, you’ve really grown beautifully,” he whispers huskily, and I’m unable to suppress a revolted shiver as he caresses my hip with a fleshy, clammy hand.  “I had you again while you were sleeping…I wanted to wait, but you looked so good, all pale and smooth, lying there…”  His tone grows steadily quieter, while the hand at my hip is joined by another at my thigh, this one tracing deftly upwards with unquestionable intent.

“Easy, easy,” he murmurs as I gasp at the unpleasant sensation of a slick finger worming its way inside me.  “You’ll like this, don’t worry…”  He grips my side as I thrash weakly against the intrusion, my movement only seeming to arouse him further. 

“I’m going to fuck you, pretty,” he states viciously through gritted teeth, driving a second finger inside.  “And I’ll make you like it—make you want it.”

 He crooks his fingers and my vision blurs as they brush a place that sends waves of undiluted pleasure coursing through my body, rocketing straight to my head.  A strangled moan escapes me as he massages that spot from within, and his voice sounds from behind me, distant and vague.  “Mmm, yes, I’ll make you want it…want me…”

His fingers continue to ram into me ruthlessly, capitalizing on their effectiveness, on my weakness.  No, I don’t want this, I don’t, I tell myself as his unoccupied hand slithers around and beneath to knead my arousal roughly, expertly working me into a hazy mindlessness that knows nothing but this—what I feel, this bombardment of my senses, this control…

“Ah, that’s it…,” he encourages softly as my hips begin to move on their own accord, taking his fingers deeper even as his rough palm slides along my growing erection.  “So pretty…”

He withdraws abruptly, hands stationed on my hip-bones as he guides himself inside me with wilting patience; he surges forward savagely, and my mouth falls open in a silent scream, my back arching with intermingled pain and pleasure as his frenzied thrusts drive deep and fast.  His fingers tangle in my hair, forcing my head back until my upturned face is at a distinctly uncomfortable angle with the ceiling, and his labored breathing fills my ears. 

“You…like this,” he gasps out between muffled grunts.  “I made you…made you like it…”  He seizes my erection, squeezing with brutal efficiency as he pounds into me with renewed fervor at the whimper that’s torn from my throat.  “And now,” he growls near my ear, “I’ll make you come…for me…” 

I sob brokenly as my body spasms with release, and he moans, yanking my hips up to meet his last frantic thrusts.  When he comes, hot and violent inside me, there is nothing gentle about his touch as he wrenches my face around, nothing innocent about his kiss, or his eyes, or his voice; nothing sacred, nothing beautiful.   There is no warm reprieve, no after-glow, only the deepest, most terrible shame.

 He collapses on top of me with a happy, sated sigh, nuzzling the side of my head so that his lips brush the shell of my ear.  “See how good it can be?” he whispers in a tone that demands agreement.

 I lie quietly, humiliation and disgust—at myself, at my weakness—converging into a fresh surge of nausea.  He sighs contentedly and strokes my hair as he would a pet’s.  “You belong to me, you know?” he says with a sinister sort of affection.  “You’re mine.  You’d like that wouldn’t you?  Someone to love you…make you feel good…”  He draws back a bit, using the cuff of his shirt sleeve to brush the tears from my face, and I’m somehow more ashamed when I realize I’ve been crying.  And he’s there, watching me closely, drinking in the sight of me, weak and broken.  “Make you feel…,” he finishes softly.

I don’t struggle when he uncuffs me and lays me on my back, and I stare at the ceiling, detached, as he positions my arms and legs to his liking, strapping them securely in place. 

Not like this.  The words spring to my head as my lips part passively to admit his eager, seeking tongue, and are accompanied by an image—a memory—of water streaming down tiles, the all-encompassing, hissing roar of it pummeling against walls, half-empty shampoo bottles, bodies…of arms around me, solid yet undemanding, and a whisper, unexpected and barely audible over the shower.  “…Shouldn’t happen like this…,” he had said, and his kiss was soft and bittersweet.  Irvine. 

Irvine had made me feel…without hurting, without taking away.  He treated me almost like—almost like he--

--Because he wanted you to keep coming back for more, part of me interrupts disapprovingly, just like--

No!  He’s not like that…He said we could if I wanted…

Because he knows you will. 


He knows you’re a slut.

I’m…he’s my—

--friend? You know better…He knew you were lonely.


He knew he wouldn’t even have to ask.

…I just wanted…

You were selfish.  You ruined any friendship you might have had with him.

…wanted him to…

He wouldn’t even want you, now.

…love me…

No one would.

“This is what you need, pretty.”  He had pulled back at some point, and is currently regarding me with an empathetic smile.  “Just me…and you.”  Madness glitters in his pale eyes, and I can’t bring myself to look away, staring back at him with a bemused sort of fascination.  Like a man watching the stool being kicked from beneath him, feeling the rope tighten around his neck in those last few seconds.  Transfixed by the sudden awareness of his own hopelessness. 

“…All you need,” he says, as if confirming some unspoken question, his hand cupping my jaw as his mouth covers mine; I close my eyes, feeling like I’ve been led to the gallows.

Dry winds whip around us in the form of miniature tornadoes, sending great swirls of dust dancing across dead, cracking earth.  I have to convert a reach to stabilize my nonexistent hat to a furious swipe at my own wayward strands of hair; it proves to be a thoroughly useless gesture, however, when half a second later they’re being tossed into my face again.  I give up, using my forearm to shield my eyes from the airborne sheets of dirt as everyone else seemed to be doing.

“How close are we?” Zell yells over the ever-present wind.

Seifer, who had been squinting out at the desolate, sun-baked landscape stretching out in front of us, inclines his head to a nearby rock formation, his voice barely carrying over an especially loud gust.  “Close enough.”

I take a closer look, which is a struggle owing to the constant assailment of my eyes, noticing for the first time what appears to be a crumbling structure of some sort, built right into the otherwise benign-looking rock surface.   Seifer has already set off, framed majestically in the hazy desert sunset, his long trench coat billowing out behind him and stained crimson in the light.  In the distance, the dragon-like silhouette of the Ragnarok casts a long, black shadow across the barren terrain, and it’s hard to imagine another living being in this wind-swept desolation besides ourselves. 

It’s not quite so difficult, however, when Seifer points to a rocky overhang, under which rests a small, sand-colored cruiser; it would have been completely invisible from the sky and is nearly so on land, cast in shadow and expertly concealed.  The sight of it sends everyone hurrying to catch up with him, Seifer’s credibility taking a sudden boost, and before long, we’re standing in the darkness of a rickety wooden enclosure, the wind whistling through uneven cracks in the paneling and making the entire structure creak ominously.

“It’s designed,” Seifer grunts, forcing a misaligned door open with a savage wrench, “to look like what’s left of an old mine.” The door hangs to the side in splintered fragments, revealing a dark tunnel, sunlit dust particles swimming in a sea of black.   “From the outside.”

He disappears into the blackness without another word, Quistis on his heels; the rest of us exchange apprehensive looks before following.  Our footsteps thud dully on the sandy ground, the only sound besides irregular showers of dust from above our heads.  In front of us, Seifer switches on a flashlight, illuminating rocky walls and jagged surfaces, an endless black looming in the distance.  I vaguely wonder what else he has stored in that coat. 

“Did I ever tell you I’m claustrophobic?” Zell says to me in a whisper, as a fresh trickle of dirt sprinkles the ground right behind us.  “…And I don’t like things collapsing on my head, either…Which is why I usually try to avoid places like this…,” he adds while surveying the ceiling, and Selphie brushes dirt from her shoulder nervously.

Meanwhile, Seifer and Quistis have come to a stop ahead of us, stooping to inspect something on the ground beneath the beam of the flashlight.   Zell, Selphie, and I gather around curiously.  Selphie gasps.  “Those are his footprints!” she says excitedly.  “They have the same marks, look!”   Under the stark white light, the set of prints leave deep, jagged lines in the soil, the tread marks curved in a pattern that looks distinctly familiar.   Any hope that Squall had simply fallen asleep somewhere, as he’s been apt to do lately, is stripped away as I realize that, once again, my wishful thinking has been proven wrong.

Seifer guides the light along the ground, illuminating the prints--too irregularly spaced and too deep--marching into the blackness and out of sight.  He had been carrying something.

“He’s here…,” Seifer murmurs under his breath, and before any of us can make a move, he’s taken off at a brisk stride, leaving us staring after him in the dark.

It’s easier to think clearly when you haven’t got too many thoughts spinning around your head at once, and when a certain condensed form of electricity (measuring approximately five-foot-five and currently stepping on my heel for the fifth time) isn’t jumping at the slightest sound, and doing so right behind you.

I stop in frustration and Zell knocks into me, momentarily losing any sort of the presumably innate grace he possesses on the battlefield as he proceeds to trip over my boot and fall face-first in the sand with a yelp and a muffled thud.   The girls whirl around at the noise, flashing me disapproving looks—which is unfair, since I hadn’t asked Zell to go careening over my foot—before hurrying after Seifer, who hadn’t slowed his stride in the least.

“Sorry,” I sigh, stooping to extend my hand to Zell as he peels himself from the ground.  Feeling mildly annoyed at myself for finding any amusement in a situation like this, I force a neutral expression as Zell’s face emerges, caked in sand and screwed up in the effort to avoid getting any in his eyes; some of it has taken residence in his bangs, which are currently sticking out at odd angles, making his hair look like an exotic pollinating plant of some sort.

“S’okay,” he croaks, spitting out a mouthful of dirt as he grasps my wrist and levers himself up.  He brushes himself off as he walks—by my side, thankfully—tending to his face by seizing up the front of his shirt and scrubbing vigorously. 

A few moments of silence and then—“Ugh, I do not need this.”


“Got sand down my shorts…,” he mutters angrily, shaking said articles of clothing out while walking, resulting in a jaunty sort of side-step with a good deal of squirming.  I can’t help it—my face breaks into a grin.  The first real grin in quite some time, by the feel of it; I’m instinctively aware it shouldn’t hurt this much.  Hyne, what would I do without Zell?  Promptly start having an anxiety attack, most likely. 

“Eww,” he groans miserably, looking up at me with a disgusted grimace that forces me to clamp my jaws together to keep from laughing aloud.  “I am never having sex on the beach…”

The flashlight beam bobs steadily ahead of us, the refracted light casting an unearthly glow on our surroundings, which still aren’t resembling those of any laboratory I’ve ever seen.  I look to Zell, who seems to be thinking the same thing; our eyes catch and he tilts his head towards Seifer, raising a brow.   Our earlier conversation had ended after I inquired why things kept finding ways down his shorts, to which Zell replied, “Can I help it my crotch has it’s own gravitational field?,” and I couldn’t think of a worthy retort.  Now, all I can offer is a helpless shrug.  Zell sighs and we both return to staring down the rocky tunnel-way…which has become decidedly less rocky since the last time I looked.

It seems we’ve come to the end of the line, or the beginning, depending on which way you look at it.  Ahead, Seifer’s footsteps are making an entirely different sound, an unearthly clicking against a surface that is no more comprised of any natural substance than the walls, which glint metallically under the beacon of his flashlight.

“It’s like the fucking bat-cave*,” Zell whispers vaguely, and I couldn’t put it better myself. 

There is no logical way the transition between two separate realms of existence should be so smooth—it’s almost like we’ve stepped into another dimension, only without the time-compression effect, which always left me feeling slightly queasy after experiencing the ride... And yet, the world’s still managed to turn itself upside down, even without the help of a magic portal.  

Soon, the sounds of all five pairs of our booted feet echo like the separate reports of an execution squad in action, which is sure to alert anyone within a five-mile radius of our presence.   Where once only rock resided rise great slabs of steel, embedded seamlessly into the tunnel surface, but even in this separate world, there’s a suspicious squeaking from overhead, beyond the range of light.  Hell, this is the fucking bat-cave.

We’re passing corridors now, lines of rooms streaking past us as we follow Seifer like pigs to the slaughter, completely uncomprehending of this place, this altered universe where the leader has become lost, and the lost has become the leader.   

Hyne, what I wouldn’t give to see that familiar splash of black that always looked so out of place but felt so right, somehow;  belts glinting from smooth, inky leather, too daring, too unabashedly out-there for someone with a name attached to a title: A commander; a hero.  Squall.  Never quite what the public wanted, never quite fitting society’s standards, and quite possibly never the sweater-vest type. 

And yet, it’s funny.  His smile’s the picture of innocence. 

And it’s so perfect, so right.  Like steel and silk rolled into one.

That’s what I love about him.  That’s why right now, even if I have to force myself to pretend this is just another mission, just another monster-hunt, I want nothing more than to believe that’s all that matters.

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