Author's Notes: This is something I started a while back while (as always) ignoring my classes and abusing my mother's laptop. It's the first part in what is probably going to become an epic and I'm planning on having Necromage help me with this one, as she came up with some background concepts that went right over my head. So yay. And this story will contain shounen-ai/yaoi. As in boy/boy love, and probably even more graphic content if Squall starts talking to me again. Apparently I made him cry too much in my latest piece and he's very dejected. Well screw you, boy, I dun like you none anyway. Yer just lucky yeh pretty and look so good with Seifer! BTW – My latin sux beyond belief so if I misuse certain latin terms in the title, just tell me so. I will be much gratified. And the theme song won’t make much sense to you now, but it with later chapters it hopefully will.

Feedback: Praise or pity - send it my way. You want more, you tell me so. Though I am in serious need for constructive criticism, I prob'ly should have sent this to D to beta first... Oh well. She can poke her dagger of english perfection and get back to me.

DISCLAIMER: Characters portrayed herein are not mine, belong to Squaresoft. The song "Beautiful" belongs to Creed and respective publishers, companies; all not mine. Only plot. Or at least I hope there's plot ::blinks::

Just Breathe

Chapter One

By Koorime

She wears a coat of colour
Loved by some, feared by others
She's immortalised in young men's eyes
Lust she breeds in the eyes of brothers
Violent sons make bitter mothers
So close your eyes, here's your surprise

Beautiful is empty
Beautiful is free
Beautiful loves no one
Beautiful stripped me

- "Beautiful" - Creed



Zell started, turning to find the blonde ex-Instructor standing behind him, arms crossed over her casual outfit, her smooth features a mask of concern. He wondered for a brief moment just how she had gotten so close to him without his noticing, but then he figured that his mind was pretty occupied by other things at the moment.

Zell shrugged, turning back to the one-way glass window in front of them. "Not really. I mean he's not sick or anything, but there's still no progress." He paused, as though considering some new concept, but then groaned, a hand tangling in his hair. "It doesn't make sense! How could something like this happen from Time Compression?"

Quistis sighed, arms unweaving to press gloved palms against the cool glass. "I don't know. I feel really bad, you know."

Zell shifted his gaze from the sight before them to the troubled blonde. "Huh? Why? You didn't do anything, Quistis."

She nodded slowly. "I know, but..." She glanced back over her shoulder through the glass. "We always wanted this, didn't we? We wanted him to be happy, to smile," she shook her head. "But now," she shrugged helplessly.

"He's like an entirely different person," Zell finished. "I know. I guess we should be careful what we wish for."

"I don't even know if he's happy, his eyes are so empty... Even when he's smiling. It's..."

"Damn freaky."

Quistis's sad blue eyes mirrored his own, they turned their attention back to the scene on the other side of the glass. The brightly lit room was typical of a psychiatric cell, minus the padding. The only furniture was a steel table set between two metal chairs. Two figures occupied the chairs, one clad in a white lab coat with dark hair framing even darker eyes and a compassionate smile. The woman occasionally jotted notes on the mini-computer before her, eyes glancing between the screen and the person opposite her.

"So tell me again, how much do you remember?"

The young man rolled his crystal blue eyes, the stormy depths dark and unreadable. He let his hands drop from where they had been playing with his white, sleeveless shirt. He seemed to study his hands as they flicked invisible lint from his dark blue jeans. Finally, he straightened. "I already told you a thousand times, Doc. Why do we have to go over it again? Can we do something about the lights, 'cause I'm..."

"Just one more, it's the last time I'll ask. Promise," Doctor Kadowaki cut him off, but she was smiling warmly.

Quistis bit her lip anxiously, hope rising as it had so many times before, only to be bitterly disappointed. Time and time again. She felt Zell's hand entwining with hers and she gripped it tightly as they looked on.

He sighed. "Nothing. Well, actually, I don't remember anything before a few days ago, I've told you this already." The tone held a hint of annoyance, but his expression remained neutral.

"The very first thing you can recall, please."

He leaned back lazily against the steel frame, arms dangling at his sides. A boot rose to brace on the knee of the other leg at a right angle. "First thing," he muttered. "I woke up with a splitting headache and all the muscles in my back were real painful. And then..." He stared off into space, a quizzical, yet dreamy expression claiming him. "I saw this girl in blue. She was holding me and crying about something I couldn't make out. Next thing I knew she was sobbing into my frickin' shirt and then I realised we were in this huge meadow. I mean, hey, she was hot and the scenery was real nice but I thought I was on a movie set!" he exclaimed, almost

laughing."Good, that's good," Kadowaki typed something down. "And before that?"

He looked at her, blinking in confusion. "What do you mean? There's nothing before that."

Quistis sighed, willing the tears to stay back. How cruel, to forget your entire life and wake up to it one day as a complete stranger. Clueless, vulnerable and empty. A clean slate.

Kadowaki was silent for a moment, then she sighed heavily. "Alright, that's all for today. Good session, Squall. I'll see you next week, same place and time."

Squall winked, shooting the air with two fingers. "Later, Doc!"

"Complete amnesia," moaned Quistis, the back of her hand pressing to her forehead as if suppressing a headache. She absently poked Zell's hotdog with her straw, expression glum.

Zell shook his head. "I don't like this new and improved Squall, actually. He's bloody creepy."

"Hey guys," a voice called. If the two blondes heard it, they didn't move to make any response. Quistis was slumped over her milkshake, seeming to have forgotten its existence, finding Zell's lunch more interesting. Zell was staring vacantly at the palm plants adorning the pillars, oblivious to her activities.

Rinoa halted as she regarded them both. "Geez, who died?"

Quistis turned from her inanimate victim to the blue-clad girl looming over them. "Oh, it's you."

Hell, doesn't she have any other outfit? Or maybe she has multiple copies of the same one. Weird.

"Well hello to you too," Rinoa giggled, seating herself. "Whatcha doing?"

"Lunching," Zell replied simply, finally turning his attention to her. "I know you're not here for the food, what's up?"

Quistis cast him a dark look at his comment, but neither he nor Rinoa had seemed to notice. She had heard enough of Zell's suspicions that Rinoa had an eating disorder, she herself silently agreed that Rinoa had a problem. Any attempts to approach the subject were speedily avoided on Rinoa's part. However, it was still cold of him to address it so casually. Lucky for Zell, Rinoa didn't pick up on it. But it was unlike Zell to act so bluntly, almost cold. It reminded her of Squall.

Rinoa smiled brightly, playing with the rings on the chain around her neck. "Actually, I'm looking for Squall. He's disappeared again."

As usual, Quistis resisted the urge to roll her eyes heavenward. Since the day of the SeeD Victory Ball, Rinoa seemed to be getting more and more irritating. All she ever did was either play with Angelo, read romance novels or look for Squall if she wasn't glued to his side. Quistis was beginning to wonder if she had no life or if she limited her activities so that her brain wouldn't overload. Or maybe it already had and Rinoa was in denial.

"Rinoa," she began.

"Hmm?" the raven-haired girl grinned widely.

Do you ever stop smiling?! "I have it on good authority that Squall is NOT here. He's somewhere else. Far, far away."

And then, as if to spite her, a familiar voice that should have been cold and indifferent, but now possessed an alien cheerfulness, rang out.

"Ah, there you are!"

Quistis nodded at Zell who involuntarily shuddered at the voice. Rinoa brightened noticeably, jumping from her chair to greet the newcomer.

"Squally!" she cried, eyes shining. Squall caught her in his waiting arms, nuzzling the crown of her dark mane affectionately.

Squally, Quistis thought. Is that a word?

"If that were anyone else but Squall, it wouldn't be so disturbing," Zell murmured, watching the two cuddle. Quistis leaned forward as he beckoned for her to hear his whisper. "It was okay when he was Squall the Frigid Iceberg and Rinoa was like the summer breeze coming along, but this...?" They both snuck a glance back at the couple.

Quistis finished his trail of thought. "Disturbing. The entire case of Squall's amnesia is just too damned suspicious if you ask me," she fingered the pattern of the golden whip adorning her waist, coiled like a snake. "There's something wrong with this picture."

// But isn't this what you wanted? //

"What do you mean?" Selphie frowned, head cocked to the side as she regarded the ex-Instructor. "What's so wrong with

Squinoa?"Quistis stared for a moment, not sure if she had heard right. Shaking her head, she continued. "It's not them together, it's just them as individuals. Have you noticed anything strange about them recently?"

Selphie smiled brightly, plopping onto one of the Quad's benches that basked in the warm shadows of a tall oak. "Just Squall," she said simply, folding her legs under her.

"No, more than that. Think seriously. And don't smile when I say that," Quistis fixed the younger girl with a patronising glare. Selphie fought to restrain a grin but wound up looking like a twisted grimace hungry for air. "Now, why would Squall lose his memory because of Time Compression?"

The brunette scratched her furrowed brow. "Is it important?"

"Indulge me," Quistis sighed, exasperated. Selphie had no patience.

Selphie's hand found one of her boot laces to fiddle with as she thought about it. "Well we don't actually know anything about Time Compression, do we? So it could have any repercussion on those lost in a Time Warp. We know that Squall got lost after the battle for some reason. And then Rinoa claims that she found him unconscious. Other than that, we don't know anything else. Considering the fact that you have no information to compare or base your suspicions on, there's not much that you can speculate, Quisty. So don't worry about it!"

An extended version of everything I already know.

The older blonde pursed her lips, leaning against a tree opposite the petite girl. "Maybe it's just my gut trying to readjust to normal life. Or more like the stress of awaiting impending doom," she smiled half-heartedly. A frown tugged at her features as she realised what she had said. Doom? Where did that come from?

"Maybe it's the hot dogs," Selphie piped, smiling brightly. Quistis returned the gesture, hand unconsciously reaching for her whip as if sensing some hidden danger.

The blonde sighed. "In any event, I just hope that we never have to deal with Ultimecia again. That was..." she trailed off, unable to continue. Something in the back of her mind seemed to pull at her conscious self, like a distant memory. Something from the constraints of a dream, distant yet significant.

"Though I gotta admit, she had a pretty cool castle," Selphie mused, eyes distant. "Except for that weird bell and the chandelier that kept falling... Ooh, remember that swinging light in the winding staircase? Do you remember how many times the guys had to try for that before they actually caught it?" She laughed at the memory of Irvine perilously hanging off the light shade, Zell in a fit of hysterics from where he proved useless on the stair's edge as Squall simply stared off into the distance, bored, as if waiting for the dilemma to remedy itself and pass.

"It was harder than you think," Quistis replied.

Selphie rolled her eyes. "It might have helped if they hadn't all jumped at the same time for a head-on collision in

mid-flight."Quistis moved to reply, but another voice cut her off.

"That was only because Zell is retarded and couldn't understand the simple phrase of 'wait until I've jumped.'"

"I only heard the 'jump' part!" the familiar voice retorted.

"Exactly! Because you're an idiot and never listen!" came the playful reply.

A chuckle was followed by a mock-stern voice. "Now you listen t'me, bitch..."

Selphie sprang to her feet and held out her arms to the two guys who approached. "Everybody! Love and Peace!"

"You're late," Quistis mumbled, fixing the two with a frown.

Zell slumped into the empty seat, pulling Selphie down next to him. "I'm guessin' I didn't miss anything life-threatening."

"Just gossip," Selphie ruffled his hair, earning a mock glare on Zell's part. "Quistis thinks that there's something weird going on concerning Squinoa."

Irvine arched a slender brow at this, the petite brunette shrugged.

"They're always clinging to each other they might as well be one entity; Squinoa!"

Zell looked to Quistis, who seemed to be scrutinising the pavement, obviously in thought. "You shouldn't think so hard, Quistis. It's bad for the brain. Besides, didn't we agree that tonight was strictly trivial-free?"

"This is not trivia!" the blonde snapped, hand now restlessly yanking at the handle of Save the Queen. "Why am I the only one seeing weird things in them?"

"Because you see things that aren't there," Selphie offered. "Come on! Tonight is a night of brain-less booze and booyaka!"

Irvine regarded her sceptically. "The hell does that mean?"

Her emerald eyes danced like shimmering jewels. "We're goin' to Balamb, baby!"

Irvine groaned, rolling his eyes. "Bloody fuck, I'm sick of Balamb."

"And I'm sick of Garden, we're going to Balamb!"

Despite his protests, the cowboy let himself be dragged along by the short brunette. "But we were there last week, Seffie!"

"Not with Rin."

Irvine halted. "Oh no." He regarded Selphie with a questioning look, as if begging her to be joking. The triumphant grin proved otherwise.

"Hell, no!" he exclaimed, turning to the blondes for support. Quistis was staring fixedly at the ground, eyes trained yet unfocused and he knew she hadn't heard a word exchanged. Zell simply shrugged, shoving hands in his pockets.

"Seffie, there's a reason she doesn't come," Irvine stated, tone insistent.

She nodded. "You never invite her."

"Rinoa doesn't want to come! Her world is Squall-centric, y'know she won't leave him for a second if she can help it! And he's under house arrest because o'his health!" he exclaimed indignantly.

Again, Selphie nodded. "That is why we take Squall with us. The Doc lifted the restriction yesterday, at least as long as he's escorted by SeeD personnel. And we are Seed, no?" She raised a finger to tap against an invisible wall. "Maybe something in Balamb will trigger his memory, and we all need the fresh air! Take a break once in a while."

She marched towards the dormitories, leaving the warm atmosphere of the Quad to the slight chill of the corridors. The others followed at a slower pace, Irvine shaking his head.

"She's not gonna come."

"Yes she will," Selphie threw over her shoulder, confident and simple.

"I'm telling ya..."

"This is not a democracy, Irvy."

"No way."

Zell's glare intensified. "Opposition. No soap opera is complete without it."

Squall blinked. "Soapies are where you find out your lover's your mother and your ex-boyfriend broke up with you because he's now sleeping with your best friend. This is just life, Zell."

Zell grinned. "You just want me to beg."

The brunette smiled in return, a gesture which Zell sincerely believed he would never accustom to receiving from Squall. After deciding to go out to Balamb for the perfect end to the week, Selphie had only insisted inviting 'Squinoa'. After finding the two in the library, they encountered the much ordained resistance.

Rinoa shook her head, nodding at Squall over her shoulder who sat atop a desk. "He can't handle too many people right now, it wouldn't be safe for him to go out into town."

"Rinoa," Selphie hissed playfully. "You're just trying to keep him all to yourself."

The raven-haired girl feigned innocence. "So what if I am?"

Squall pursed his lips. "Don't talk about me as if I'm not here."

"How about if I talk about you in the past tense?" Quistis tried, testing his memory.

Squall blinked. "What? What the hell?"

Irvine chuckled, leaning back on his palms against Squall's desk. "You do that a lot."

"What? Ask questions?"

"No, blink."

Squall's gaze narrowed, the corner of his mouth quirking. "And I thought I was unique," he droned, Selphie stifled a giggle at his side.

Quistis sighed. "Never mind, let's just get out of here. All of us."

"No bars," Rinoa stated firmly.

It was Irvine's turn to give her a look. "You're pushing it."

"No clubs," she retorted, hands on hips.

Squall gave her an incredulous look. He may have had amnesia but he still had his general knowledge. For example, for Balamb Students, the prime destination in the nearby country town would be the not-so-secret, not-so-country club that was strictly adults only: The Den.

Selphie rolled her eyes. "In other words, no fun?"

Rinoa shook her head. "No bars, no clubs, no booze, no strippers and no drugs."

Zell snorted. "No way."

The Sun was a half disc of striking gold, casting bronze rays over the green plains when the SeeD troupe set foot in quiet town of Balamb. The air was warm without being humid or strikingly hot. A cool, gentle breeze carried the reassuring chirp of crickets in its wake. The darkening rays cast the town in a fuzzy, yellow hue. Shadows quickly chased the last gold and crimson flickers away, making way for the beams of the round Moon, peering round the curtain of night before nervously clambering into the sky. The night was unusually bright, so much in fact that the shadows remained cast on the very earth that was unsure if the day had ended.

Zell stopped to look up at the pearly disc in the sky. "Is that a full moon?"

Selphie momentarily halted her search for a good club. Bouncing the green-bladed nunchaku on her shoulder, she stole a glance at the Moon. "Yup. If you wish real hard on a shooting star and sneak some change under your pillow, you might see a werewolf in nine

years."Zell snorted. "Who needs werewolves when you've got Rinoa and your own monster population?"

Rinoa glared at him, but did not stop walking. "What does that mean, huh?"

"Oh, nothing bad," he defended. "But you've got wings, y'know?" He made a flapping motion with his arms; Irvine muffled a snicker with a subtle cough.

"I could use a drink right about now," he sighed.

Rinoa turned her attention to him. "I said no bars."

He shook his head. "Be realistic. What did you think we were going to do here? Shop for lingerie?"

"You would, Hell, you do," Selphie retorted, grinning wickedly.

His smile was equally vicious, he motioned dramatically. "Only for you, my love." He embraced her from behind, picking her up as she laughed gleefully.

Quistis, who had been silent up til now turned her attention to her friends, Selphie's laughter breaking through her train of thought. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't push back the annoying, nagging feeling that there was something very wrong with Squall and Rinoa. She looked at the couple, Rinoa was happily glued to Squall's arm, and he laughed at something she murmured in his ear. The feeling rose again as she observed them, she felt that she should be seeing something. That she should know something. She frowned... No... Not 'know'. Remember. Something that was hidden in the whispers of a dream. It was like reaching into the darkness for something she wasn't even sure was there. It was driving her insane.

"Hey, look! What's going on over there?" Zell pointed at something not too far in the distance. Dancing light on the walls of surrounding buildings, closer inspection proved it to be the cast image of flickering flames.

Quistis frowned. "Maybe there was an accident?"

None waited to reply, they all raced in the direction of the dancing shadows. As they got closer, the familiar sounds of a crowd met their ears. An angry crowd. The six teenagers came to a screeching halt at Balamb's harbour as they were confronted with the shocking sight of a mass of people rearing torches.

They exchanged puzzled glances until one shout rose above the crowd's roar. "Find him!"

"I know he's here, I saw him!" yelled another.

"What the...?" Squall began, the crowd moved past them like one mass, thriving entity.

Quistis motioned for her friends to follow. "Come on, we have to see what's happening!"

Rinoa frowned as they climbed atop one of the dock's roofs, racing along the steel planks after the crowd. But the sight of the angry mass brought up lost images in her mind that disappeared as quickly as they came. "This looks like... a lynch mob."

Selphie grinned, tightly gripping the crimson and emerald nunchakus. "They got torches and everything! I'm just waiting for someone to bring out the pitchforks!"

"There he is!" someone shouted, the voice was laced with malice.

"What? Where? What the hell's going on?" Zell glanced around quickly.

The crowd suddenly dispersed like water, torches casting their shadows like lurking demons approaching from the protective curtain of shadows. There was a loud uproar near the parked vehicles before the sound of clashing metal rang out, distinct and sharp. Sparks of fire raced on the wind, they watched on as a figure leapt atop one of the trucks. The light from the torches failed to illuminate the person's face, but they caught the flash of metal as the person's sword came crashing down. Another torch went flying, but there were no screams of pain.

Squall gasped. A gunblade.

He grit his teeth as the high-pitched whine of metal rang through his ears, from within his mind, the sound resonated. Racing along the cries of white light, he distinguished a figure in a swirling cloak, crimson cross-swords emblazoned on the sleeves. Before he could raise his eyes to the person's face, he caught the flash of metal hurling down towards him. Pain cut through him as the blade met flesh, and with a cry he broke free of his dizzying trance.

He was back in Balamb, watching a blood-hungry crowd scream their rage and attack the figure masked by darkness. Squall blinked once, twice. What the hell was that?

"We have to stop this before someone gets hurt!" Rinoa cried, raising her trigger arm, weapon ready.

"Wait! You could hit any one of these people," Quistis held up a hand.

"Come on, you're SeeD!" Rinoa insisted, tone desperate.

Irvine laid a hand on her weapon. "There's not enough of us. Zell, call for back up and report them of the situation."

Zell was already hailing Xu, awaiting some response. "Come on, come on," he muttered, as the screen flickered and went dark. An error message displayed itself, blinking innocently at the frustrated soldier. "Dammit, it won't transmit!"

The shadowed figure bent, extending an arm as though in offering. That arm was quickly claimed and the sillowy frame of another was hauled onto the truck's roof. A final form climbed the vehicle, this one had a larger build and wielded what look like a long staff in one hand. The two newcomers flanked the Gunblader, all hidden in shadows. But then the truck on which they stood rocked violently from the angry crowd, the staff-wielder stumbled and fell into the waiting hands of the mass. The cries for blood only seemed to intensify then, the flames from the torches roared as if relinquished.

A distinct cry rose from where the person had fallen, one voice alone that surpassed the crowd as a whole. It was a scream of disbelief and it promised pain.


Quistis and Selphie traded bewildered looks.

"No way..." Selphie managed, the fear rising in her chest.

Squall's eyes went wide and he charged into the crowd, leaving his friends in his absence.

"Squall, don't!" Zell shouted, but he was already gone. He growled, pounding his gloved fists together. "If only I could..." the blond martial artist trailed off as he caught sight of the unknown gunblader push their comrade behind them, rearing their weapon high. Emerald light sparkled like a gem in radiant brilliance as metal flashed once again and Zell finally recognised that deadly attack."Run!" he screamed, his blue eyes alight with the green hellfire emanating before them.

As the others fled, Rinoa found herself unable to move. The sight of that spinning emerald light dancing on the silver blade stirred something deep and buried within her, something beyond her consciousness that she was not meant to ever discover.

Quistis stopped, realising that her raven-haired friend was not with her. Turning back, she spotted Rinoa amidst the crowd; a sitting duck. Her eyes grew wide as she saw the familiar halo envelop the girl. Rinoa's hair billowed in a wind of its own and she spread her wings.

Squall had finally managed to reach the front of the crowd where he guessed the fallen person had been struck. His hopes were confirmed as he saw the tight cluster around a hunched figure. Breaking through the human barriers, he pulled the beaten person to their feet. Enraged voices and relentless hands tore at him, Squall stood between them and the wounded. He could have sworn he saw the faceless mass bask in a greenish hue, but dismissed it as he unsheathed Lionheart for all to reckon with.

And then the world exploded in white fire.

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