DISCLAIMER: All the characters, places etc., are the property of Square, not me (::sniffs::). I'm just borrowing them for my own nefarious purposes. I promise they'll be tidied up, and sent home all clean an' sparkling.

(For summary, rating, etc., see previous chapters)

WARNING: Little bit o' blood and gore and stuff in this chapter. A number of people suffering life threatening injuries. Oh, and character death…

A/N: Apologies in advance for Rinoa. Hope the end of the chapter makes up for it…^_<


Chapter Six

By Seshat


It occurred to him that it was an empty term thrown about with abandon, by fools who had no idea what it meant. He'd been one of them. He'd thought he knew what it meant. So sure that the shattering, consuming pain he'd experienced in the weeks and months following Squall's departure, had been his soul being slowly torn to shreds. Like fate ripping up a bad check.

Fool. He had no fucking idea.

Heartbreak was being here, unarmed and helpless, staring up into the emotionless stare of the man he loved, knowing beyond a doubt that he'd have preferred to die at the end of that gunblade than try and live with the hopelessness that reflected back at him from those vacant, grey eyes.

It wasn't that same before. When it was just a case of his lover choosing another, when he knew he could still affect the situation, when all Seifer had to do was find Squall, and talk some goddamned sense into him. Persuade him that what they had together was still worth the fight. When he still had a sliver of control.

Heartbreak was being faced with the living proof that Squall - his Squall - was gone, and no amount of fighting could bring him back.

Suddenly, Irvine's words made perfect sense.

Was this what he'd seen? Was this what scared him so badly?

Funny, how the knowledge killed him, made the fight so much easier.

"Yeah, I've missed him…." He growled, eyes darting to where Hyperion lay. "Unfortunately for you, you're not him."

"Please, lover, I'm hurt…"

"Don't fucking call me that…" he hissed. Somewhere off to his left, he could hear Zell groaning his way back into consciousness. "I don't know what the fuck you've done to him, but you…" he blinked, cursing the tears he could feel welling in his eyes. "Are nothing to me."

The words that destroyed whatever remained of Seifer's convictions, only served to elicit a soft laugh from Squall.


Even if he had a response, the breath and the inclination were both ripped from his throat, as he watched a pair of small, pale hands sinuously winding their way around Squall's chest, snaking beneath the edges of his jacket. Not taking his blank eyes from Seifer, Squall took one hand from Lionheart's hilt, wrapping it around Rinoa's narrow waist as he pulled her close.

He should have taken the opportunity to run, to lunge the few feet to where his own gunblade beckoned. Yet he stayed, as well rooted to the Quad floor as the battered trees that surrounded them. Stayed, unable to wrench his horrified gaze from the loving embrace in front of him.

"You know…" Rinoa began, conversationally, breaking off the kiss but still leaning possessively against Squall. "You could have made this so much easier on yourself, if you'd just given me what I wanted."

"Even if I knew, you'd still have to kill me to stand a chance."

"Oh, I'd have done that anyway!" She giggled. "Or at least, Squallie would have done it for me. I guess it doesn't really matter what you know. It'll be so much more fun tearing this place down, brick by brick."


"Do whatever the fuck you want, you won't find anything here."

Her eyes narrowed, the grin morphing into a pout.

"You were never any fun." She huffed. "And considering all the mean things you've done to me, I should just let him hack you to pieces right now."

"I think it's a little early to put him out of his misery…don't you?" Squall murmured, bringing the tip of the gunblade up to trace the old, faded scar between Seifer's brows. "We've got so much more to catch up on…"

"Of course!" Rinoa nodded, hands clasped in front of her. "For all the horrible things he's done to both of us, he should be made to suffer!"

Seifer almost laughed, albeit hysterically, watching Squall glare condescendingly at the Sorceress' excitable squeal. Rinoa frowned back at him, looking suitably chastised.

Hyne, Ultimecia would never have allowed him to stare her down that way. Any behaviour that questioned her authority was as smart as signing his own death warrant.

But he was right about one thing - Rinoa had no idea how to deal with the kind of power she was flaunting. Letting someone like her loose with the forces a Sorceress could command was a little like putting a drunk in the driving seat of a sports car. Immense power with a negligent lack of control. And someone, probably some innocent bystander, was going to get hurt.

It took him a moment or three to realise that Lionheart had been lowered.

"Unfair odds." Squall shrugged, picking up Hyperion, and easily throwing the much heavier gunblade in Seifer's direction. "Where's the satisfaction in defeating an unarmed man? And get up…unlike you, I have no need to see anyone kneeling before me."

"That's not how I remember it…" Seifer struggled to his feet.

"What can I say…" the smallest smile twitched the corner of Squall's lips. "I was faking it."

He still knew which buttons to push, Seifer had to grant him that much. The loaded comments, the kiss…whoever was doing this knew precisely how to crash right through his already flimsy defences.

Don't think…

Because it couldn't be Squall. Couldn't be. Squall would never…

Seifer could never…

Don't think!

The gunblade wavering in his unsteady grip, and forcefully shutting out the cries of protest coming from his conscience, he lunged forward, thrusting Hyperion up blindly. Off-balance and half-hearted, he wasn't surprised when Squall spun easily from the rushed challenge.

The sharp pain at the back of his head - courtesy of Lionheart's hilt - that sent him sprawling to the Quad floor hadn't been quite unexpected either.

What shocked him, was the sheer venom with which the blow was delivered.

They had all been trained in the cold, ruthlessness of mercenary battle, but no-one had taken quite so well to the theory than his current opponent. Squall had always fought with a clinical efficiency that made each devastatingly accurate swipe of his gunblade seem as though he was dispassionately writing out his grocery list. In fact, there was only one time that Seifer could recall even seeing anything resembling emotion flashing in Squall's eyes whilst he wielded his gunblade.

And he had the scar to prove it.

But hell if Squall wasn't angry, right now.

"Out of practice, Seif?" Squall sneered, shaking his head with exaggerated pity.

"Fuck you…" Seifer spat, cursing the dizziness that returned with a vengeance as he stood. He'd probably make a better job of staying on his feet, he decided, if he wasn't still battling the after-effects of whatever drugs Kadowaki had pumped into his veins.

"You wish."

"No…" the second swing of Hyperion was far more controlled, coming very close to catching the smirking Squall off guard. Lionheart was mere inches in front of his face as he blocked the thrust. "As a matter of fact, I don't."

Squall laughed. Actually laughed.


Distantly, he could hear the unmistakable metallic symphony that was the two best gunbladers in the known world, going at it like things possessed.

Oh, wait…

Inwardly, Zell cursed the irony of that thought, as he struggled to ground himself back in the conscious world.

"Yes. Awaken, warrior…"

His eyes flew open, as he reflexively scrambled back from where he assumed the owner of the voice stood. Staring around wildly, it almost didn't even register that there was no-one close enough to have spoken, quite so softly.

"…the hell's goin' on?" he muttered, wondering whether he'd smacked into the wall a little harder than he'd first thought. Raising one gloved hand to gingerly examine his head, intent on finding a rational reason for the temporary insanity, he instead found one more thing to scare him shitless.

He couldn't move.

He panicked for a second, mind full of horrifying injuries and having to spend the rest of his natural life sucking liquidised hot dogs through a straw.

But while he couldn't move, he was nonetheless moving. His body staggered forward, of someone else's accord.

The terror subsided somewhat, as he felt the familiar tingle of magic rushing through him. A spell, then. Fine, at least that was something he could deal with, just an Esuna, and…

Nothing. Zell Dincht, who was junctioned to Quezacotl in the same way most people were joined to their shadows, suddenly found himself completely unjunctioned. Whatever the hell had decided to make him their own personal string puppet had just gone and stolen his goddamned GF!


From the corner of his eye, he watched the other three racing down the steps towards him.

"Esuna, now!" he yelled, thankful that even magic this powerful couldn't shut him up.

But the cleansing aqua light never came. The force that held him simply let go, and the momentum he'd exerted trying to fight it sent him stumbling back.

"What was that?"


"Probably…" Zell nodded, shuddering at the odd sensation of being back in control of his own body. "Where the hell have you guys been?"

"We had to secure the Quad." Quistis said. "And try to keep the students away from the area. Hyne, you should see the place…a couple of minutes before Irvine found us, every window in Garden was blown in."

"The whole thing shook!" Selphie exclaimed. "We thought it was a quake or something!"

"Where's Seifer?" Irvine frowned.

"There…" Zell gestured vaguely to where the two combatants were still engaged in enthralled battle. When he looked back, the cowboy's face was the same ashen colour as the Bika Snowfields.

Great, Zell rolled his eyes. Rule Kinneas out of being any fucking use…


"Oh, my…" Quistis gasped quietly. "It really is…"

"Wow, he even looks the same." Selphie blinked. "'Cept he doesn't have Griever…"

Zell frowned, following her gaze. He hadn't noticed before, but she was correct; the unique silver pendant was missing from its usual place.

"Wonder where it went…?"

He doubted anyone had an answer, but it was a moot point; they weren't given the chance the reply.

"Hate to break up the homecoming party guys, but Seifer's being a meany and won't tell me what I want to know. So I guess I'll have to…persuade you to tell me."

While Squall looked as though he'd been frozen in stasis for the past few years, Rinoa had clearly taken the patented Sorceress' lesson in fashion sense, although not quite to the extent that someone of her predecessors had. And the black dress still made a hell of a lot more sense than the clothes she used to wear.

She looked like she'd tried, really had, but came up a fraction short.

"Rinoa…whatever it is you want, you aren't going to find it here…" Quistis began. "And this place used to be your home…surely you can't have forgotten that…?"

"Hmm…" Rinoa frowned, cocking her head. "You never did like me much, did you Quistis?"

"What on earth does that have to do with…"

With a casual wave of her hand, casting Thundaga, the Sorceress brought the question to an abrupt end, and Quistis to her knees.


"Oops." Rinoa giggled, smiling at Zell. "Guess I'd better watch out for that thunderbird of yours, huh?"

"Fucking bitch…"

When all Rinoa was interested in was kicking Seifer's ass six ways from Sunday, Zell could convince himself to take an impartial position. He could even keep an objective view when it came to Squall. But in one single move, the Sorceress had just made this fight incredibly personal, and Zell couldn't care less how he was supposed to handle this, in a professional capacity. GF or not, no amount of magic could change the fact that he was the only one that didn't need any external weapons to bring down an enemy.

Suddenly, that's all the dark-haired girl was. Not an old friend in serious trouble. Just another enemy. And if he'd put his life on the line, played his part in protecting his friends from Ultimecia. Hell if this little…half-wit, was going to hurt them.

His own rage frightened him a little, as he propelled himself towards Rinoa.

He saw the smug look in her big brown eyes. Then he was a good few feet away, staring up at the sky.

Shielded. Damnit…

He sat up, watching uselessly as Selphie tried to cast Dispel onto the Sorceress. The spell just bounced off an invisible barrier, a couple of feet in front of Rinoa.

"Oh, please…you guys should know better than that!" Rinoa grinned. "Are you ready to talk yet?"

"No way!" Selphie yelled, beginning another cast, as Quistis summoned Siren.

"Wait, Quisty, don't…!"

The words died on his lips as both Quistis and Rinoa turned to stare at him, one bewildered the other conceited.

He barely broke her fall as the force of the GF's withdrawal sent her stumbling back.

"Aw, don't you two make the most adorable little couple?" Rinoa's insincere smile beamed down at them. "Adorable and pathetic. Do you really think there's anything you can do to fight us? After all, between the two of us we've spent years here at Garden. Know the enemy, and all that…"

For the dimmest lightbulb on the Christmas tree, her words made perfect sense. HE wasn't sure how she was doing it, but without their GF's they were at a serious disadvantage - severely weakened and without the luxury of magic to make up for it. Hell, they couldn't even draw the magical beings back. The shield meant that what they were left with - physical attack - was next to useless.

Simple. And only the experience of having once been one of them could have gleaned that kind of knowledge.

"Rinoa, we're not your enemy!" Quistis pleaded. "We don't want to fight you, but you've left us no choice!"

Gods…we can't stop her…

"Of course you have a choice." Rinoa glared, speaking as though she was patiently explaining something painfully obvious to a child. "You can give me the Vessel."

"For the love of Hyne, we don't have your goddamned Vessel! We don't even know what it is!"

"He does." She frowned. "How does it feel, forgiving him only for him to turn around and willingly sacrifice your lives for the sake of keeping this from me?"

"He wouldn't do that…"

"Really?" Rinoa smiled. "Then why isn't he here fighting alongside his so-called friends? Why is he somewhere else, fighting his own personal battles…while you're all dying?"

The strange breeze picked up again, swirling around them, controlled and deliberate.

"We'll see how chatty he feels…" Rinoa went on, "when he's trying to Phoenix Down your worthless corpses, huh?"

Something was crackling in the wind now, faint indigo sparks, not quite magic, not quite electricity. It licked against his skin, all cold energy and contained force. Like a rabid dog straining at a fraying leash.

What the hell is this…?

The sparks leapt higher, settling into a hypnotic pattern, but not coming any closer. Zell glanced up, staring confused at the frustration building on the Sorceress's face.

Seifer had made the point that Rinoa wasn't capable of controlling her powers to a devastating degree, but Zell doubted this was what he'd meant. Hell, if he didn't know better, he'd have said that her own magic was…defying her.

But how's that possible? Magic doesn't have a mind of it's own…

The bizarre thought was disrupted by the green and yellow glow coming from somewhere in his peripheral vision.

They'd all but forgotten about Irvine. The cowboy had seemed so out of it, too caught up in staring blankly at the fight between Seifer and Squall, it had been futile to hope that there was anything he could do.

At least he'd snapped out of it. It was just a shame that he'd just be cheerfully handing another GF over to Rinoa.

But instead, the knowing gleam in the Sorceress's eyes turned to manifest terror as the sniper faded into the glow.

"What…" Zell struggled to find his voice above the screeching, buffeting wind, and the static crackle of the sparks. "What did you give him?"

He couldn't hear Quistis, but the word on her lips was clear.


Leviathan? 'Kay, scary water demon and all, probably kinda freaky if you're scared of big snakes, but…enough to reduce a Sorceress to a quivering wreck? Not last time I checked…

Yet Rinoa's fear was suddenly almost tangible, the snapping energy dancing along with her reaction, as the GF took shape.

Everything seemed to slow, from Leviathan's languid slithering to the subdued purple static. Even the wind died down.

Until the strange peace was suddenly shattered by a piercing cry of;


One thing was for sure - restrained demonstrations with the students did not count as gunblade training. Didn't even compare.

Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that no student since the two of them had ever shown quite such aptitude with the weapon. They'd had the anticipated rush of cadets determined to master the skill after the war, but they barely lasted the year. Some of them, almost literally.

Maybe Kadowaki was right, maybe he should have gone a little easier on them…

Didn't matter. Even if they'd all excelled, it would never have prepared him for this. All the advantage he'd ever had over Squall was a measure of strength, but this time that seemed to be having little effect. Whereas Seifer was gasping shallow breaths, squirming in discomfort as his sweat-damp clothes clung to him, Squall's coolly disinterested expression hadn't even changed.

It certainly didn't help that in every move, every block, every strike, he was putting his weakness on display, for his opponent and the world to see.

How the hell could he put his heart into a fight he wasn't sure he wanted to win?

If he won, Squall had to lose. And right now, there was only one way Seifer could see that happening.

So he fought for the stalemate. Defended, executed moves he knew perfectly well Squall could parry. Prayed even as he felt himself tiring, felt each blow become heavier, more awkward, that eventually Squall was going to have to back down - well, first time for everything, right? - and either run or change tactic. Both outcomes could give Seifer enough time to get through the exquisite defences, and…knock him out, or something. That was pretty much the extent of the plan. His mind was already too pre-occupied to give him space to come up with anything better.

But they'd both danced this dance so many times before, the steps came automatically, every move predetermined and accounted for.

The others were in trouble. He could sneak quick glances every now and then, and each time the picture looked a little worse.

"She will kill them, you know that don't you?" Squall asked casually, blocking another clumsy swipe.

Hyne, he wasn't even out of breath!

"If she does…" he swung wildly, working more on luck than style. "I'll return the favour…"

"Assuming you'll ever get the chance…"

Seifer's attention was caught briefly by a current of energy sweeping from the direction of the other party, but immediately dragged back by the soft, unexpected laugh.

"She's such a show-off…" Squall shook his head, with a small smile. "But she has no idea what she's doing…" he frowned. "And sometimes she forgets…"

Without warning, the intensity of the energy dissipated.

One of the first rules of combat - never allow yourself to be distracted.

With almost inhuman speed, Squall spun, the whirling slice of Lionheart tearing through the flesh of Seifer's thigh as if it was so much fresh air.

Blood seeped through his fingers as he stumbled to the ground, desperately clutching at the wound with one hand, Hyperion with the other. Cure, he had to… The acute dizziness returned, as his overwrought mind tried to deal with the physical pain along with everything else.

"You weren't even trying."

He blinked, Squall's accusing tone drifting through the haze. Through blurred vision, he could see the enchanting blue glow of the gunblade hovering above his heart.

"You know I hate it when you don't even try." Squall shook his head. "Did you honestly think I wouldn't kill you?" he let the tip of Lionheart press lightly against Seifer's chest.


"Did you think I'd have some miraculous epiphany, fall at your feet professing undying love?" he scoffed, with a faint, malicious smirk. "Why the hell would anyone love you? You're pathetic, Almasy. You're nothing…" he raised the gunblade. "You always have been."

Fitting, that the last sight he'd ever see would be the face of the only one he'd ever loved. Even if that face was twisted in awful fury. He closed his eyes, cursing the tears he felt slipping down his cheeks.

The blow never came.

He opened his eyes tentatively, in time to see Squall racing off towards the others, gunblade outstretched, shouting "No!"

For a second, he wanted desperately to give in to the encroaching blackness, wanted to be welcomed into a place where all the conflicting feelings crashing through his mind would cease.

That, logic confidently announced, is probably because you're still pumping pints of blood onto the Quad floor.


Somehow, some innate reflex kicked in, as he managed to cast Curaga. At least his veins were no longer draining onto the landscaped architecture, but it wouldn't do much to help the fact that he'd lost a hell of a lot of blood.

He dragged himself back, until he could lean against one of the low flower-bed walls.

"Did you honestly think I wouldn't kill you? You're pathetic…you're nothing…"

No…definitely not his Squall. It couldn't be…just couldn't

In hindsight, maybe that Curaga wasn't such a good idea.

He wiped the tears away on the back of his gloves, trying to make his vision focus on whatever the hell had managed to save his life.

He caught the tail end of Leviathan's summon, and…and…

No Rinoa.

He could have been viewing a movie, for all the detached involvement he had in what currently passed for reality.

Zell and Quistis seemed to have borne the brunt of the Sorceress attack. They look the way I feel, he thought wryly. Which doesn't say much. Selphie seemed okay, as she crouched beside the Dinchts, her spells bathing them both in tranquil blue light.

But Squall just strode past them, Lionheart poised and ready to strike.

Come to think of it, the GF hadn't returned to any of those three either…

Oh, shit…Irvine…

Before the beaten and bruised part of his conscious mind had even registered what he was seeing, Seifer raised Hyperion, aimed it in the general direction of the arm that held Lionheart aloft, and pulled the trigger.

I'm sorry…

It was probably no more than a graze, as the bullet ripped a neat little tear in the sleeve of his jacket. Squall let out a surprised, pained cry, the gunblade clattering to the ground.

One of the first rules of combat - never allow yourself to be distracted.

Even from distance, Seifer could see how incensed Squall was, as he bent down to snatch the weapon back. Even from here he could imagine the surprised expression on the Knight's face as he raised his head.

To find himself staring down the barrel of Exeter.

Oh, sweet Hyne, Irvine, please…please don't lose it, please…

He knew the thoughts that were stampeding through the cowboy's mind like untamed horses. He'd been thinking the same ones himself, only moments before. And he wasn't foolish enough, anymore, to believe that what Irvine felt for Squall was any less intense than how he himself felt. Especially when he was certain there were things about the past two years that Irvine was not telling him.

They must have had a million conversations about the chocolate-haired beauty that simultaneously came between them, and brought them together.

This situation, however, had never been a topic.

And even as he watched, he knew that Irvine could no more pull that trigger than he could have put any deadly effort behind Hyperion.

It didn't make witnessing it any easier.

Never allowing his gaze to stray from Squall's face, Irvine lowered Exeter.

Something in Seifer's heart cracked at the sight of a single tear falling from bright, violet eyes.

There was a moment of total quiet, the world seemed to hold its collective breath.

Lionheart sheared through the silence, and though Seifer averted his eyes from the sight, he couldn't hide from the awful, sickening sound of impenetrable metal greeting all too fragile flesh.

Oh, Gods no…Irvine…

Seifer weakly attempted to get to his feet, leaning heavily on Hyperion as little black dots exploded in his vision. He had to try, had to find out if there was anything he could do…even as that sound echoed in his head again, telling him it was useless. Zell and Quistis obviously had a problem using magic, and unless Selphie had a Life, or a Phoenix Down…

Dazed, perception distorted, all he really knew was that something was moving towards him, at speed. And it didn't seem all that friendly.

Looking back, he reasoned that it was years of conditioning, a result of being trained as a mercenary since the age of five. Primed to be nothing more than a machine, that sensed danger and reacted accordingly.

So he reacted. Pushed the light-headedness aside, readied his weapon, prepared for the attack.


One soft word, and clarity came back with the force of a freight train. He could do nothing but stare, horrified, at the ragged point where his gunblade met the centre of Rinoa's chest.


She blinked, a thin stream of blood trickling from the corner of her mouth, as her eyes suddenly becoming focused on his. For someone skewered on the end of Hyperion, she looked remarkably coherent, as if she was coming out of a trance.

"Seifer, I…you have to…" her voice was thready, her slight weight concentrated on the blade as her knees buckled beneath her. "…stop her, she…Morrigan…"

"Hyne, Rin…hold on, just…" He pleaded, even as her eyes lost focus, and her body limply slid to the floor, blood pooling rapidly around her.

Grimacing, he pulled his gunblade back, frantically going through his magic inventory, looking for anything that could…

"Seifer!" Selphie screamed. "We don't have anything! Quisty and Zell can't use magic anyway, and I…"

He followed her despairing cry across the Quad, finding her small form kneeling next to Irvine's crumpled body, her hands and clothes smeared with his blood.


Unfortunately, her wail also alerted the Knight to his Sorceress's fate.


Oh, Gods too much, too much, can't think…Squall…Irvine…Rinoa…Hyne, so much blood…think, for fuck's sakes, think!

He could pinpoint the moment his mind just…broke.

Around the same time he realised that all he had in his inventory was a single Full-Life.

Your fault, your own fucking fault, you fool! He's right, so goddamned right, you are pathetic, you are nothing. You could have waited, could have warned them, could have given them time to prepare, but no…you just couldn't fucking wait! Couldn't fucking wait, and now two of your friends are dead, and Squall…


Funny, how one look into the rapidly approaching Knight's eyes made the decision for him.

It didn't matter…he didn't matter. He had plenty of lives on his conscience, saw every one of their faces in his nightmares, when all their voices even allowed him to rest.

It came down to a choice between Squall living with Irvine's death on his conscience, or Seifer adding Rinoa's life to his.

Choice…what kind of fucking choice is that anyway?

Closing his eyes, surrendering to the tears, he cast the spell.

The pink and blue beams of light glimmered, a cascade of feathers followed by a bright burst of energy.

For a moment, nothing happened. Zell feared that Seifer was simply too late, that the one spell they had between them had just been wasted.

Then Selphie gasped.

"Irvy? Oh, thank Hyne, Irvy…"

They all stared, as the magic did it's work, sealing up the massive gash Squall had inflicted along the cowboy's abdomen.

"I…Squall…?" Irvine mumbled.

"Sssh, don't try to talk." Selphie murmured, as Irvine's eyes fluttered shut. "Everything's gonna be okay…" she glanced up, tear-filled green eyes boring into Zell and Quistis. "Isn't it?"

"Yeah, it's gonna be…"

Quistis' shaky reassurance was interrupted by two swirling golden lights, one returning to her, the other to Zell.

"Quez…" Zell blinked. "Damn, it's good to have my favourite girl back…" He grinned weakly at Quistis' half-hearted glare. "Okay, my second-favourite girl…"

"But if they're back, then…" her eyes widened, darting back to where the Commander crouched, head in his hands. "Rinoa…But she can't be…it's not possible…"

He didn't get the chance to ask her what she meant by that.

The three of them could only watch as Squall stopped beside the still body of the Sorceress. Watched as he stared down at her, not even the smallest flicker of emotion crossing his face.

He took one step away, his head lolling back in a silent scream.

It began as an enveloping dark cloud.

It encircled the Knight, obscuring him for a moment, before the diaphanous black mist abruptly swept outwards, forming two colossal, undulating black wings.

A huge, translucent head reared up, the black transformed to a blinding white, as a sharp beak, and menacing, spiked talons took shape.

With an anguished, tormented cry, the mammoth crow flapped it's immense wings once, then shot up into the sky. And disappeared.

Squall swayed on his feet for an instant, before crashing to his knees, falling next to Rinoa.

Zell and Quistis stared at each other, before breaking into a run.

"What the fuck was that thing?"

"I don't…" Quistis shook her head. "Oh, Hyne…Squall…"

She reached for him, only to be stopped by a blood-stained gloved hand grabbing her wrist.


"Seifer, I…"

"Don't." he released her wrist. "Please…he might be…" he shook his head, his voice trembling. "If anyone should, then…"

She just nodded, pulling her hand back, entwining it tightly with one of Zell's instead. Wordlessly, he pulled her close, feeling her silent tears against the side of his neck.

"I'm sorry…" his eyes met Seifer's. "She took our GF's, we couldn't…" the explanation, despite being completely rational, still managed to sound amazingly hollow at the same time.

"It's okay…"

The Commander knelt reverently beside Squall, carefully turning him over with violently shaking hands. Zell noted that he looked so peaceful, there wasn't a single sign that his errant best friend had just been caught up in a nightmarish battle. Nothing, aside from the wet streak of Rinoa's blood that had splashed against Squall's cheek.

Seifer wiped it away, with a tender, trembling touch.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart…I'm so sorry…" he whispered thickly, pressing a gentle kiss against that unruly brown hair.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, grey eyes flickered. Blinked.


Seifer's head jerked back up. Quistis turned in Zell's arms.

Wide-eyed, the tears still spilling freely down his face, Seifer gazed down at Squall, a thousand different emotions vying for dominance in his expression. As if he craved his tenuous belief in this wondrous gift, but was afraid to.


The stormy gaze drifted anxiously, finally settling on glistening jade eyes. A small smile curved Squall's lips before he succumbed to unconsciousness once more.

"Squall, love…Oh, Gods, thank you, thank you…" Seifer crushed Squall's limp, but evidently alive form to his chest, mumbling between the wracking sobs, rocking Squall in his arms.

Zell blinked back a few stinging tears of his own, his arms tightening around Quistis as he scanned the devastation around them.

He should have been happy that it was all over, that Squall was finally back, that SeeD had done their job, and defeated another Sorceress.

As he watched Seifer's relief, felt Quistis' s tears, heard the feeble comforts Selphie was murmuring to Irvine, one thought rolled over and over in his mind.

Too easy.


To Be Continued…



Authors Notes:

This chapter was so difficult…and I think it's pretty much official that Seshat can't write action. Not that the action in itself was important, but…::sigh:: Sorry if anyone missed the last update, it got a little swamped by all the great fics that were uploaded at the same time!

Believe it or not, I felt bad about killing Rinoa off. For once, it's not her fault ;) And as if I'd really make Squall evil (or dead). I mean, come on…

If anyone's interested in the name origins, Adrasteia is of Greek origin, meaning `inescapable` or `unyielding`. It's also an alternative, lesser used name for the Goddess more popularly known as Nemesis or Minerva. She was the distributor of reward and punishment. Morrigan is the famed Celtic triple Goddess of war, death, and battle. (the three change, depending on your source, but it's usually: Badb (fury), Macha or Nemain (battle) and Fea (hate) Legend has it that she reigned over the battlefield, assisting with magic, encouraging fighters to battle-frenzy. She's also the inspiration for the whole crow imagery, as this was one of the forms she could take (her favourite disguise being the carrion crow. Apparently.)

Yep, you all really wanted to know how much thought went into choosing names. Man, I need a life…No, wait, official announcement No 2 - Seshat has officially renounced Real Life ™. It sucks. Big time.

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