My Orphanage

Chapter Sixteen

By Scarlet Fever

"Seifer didn't call me back," Edea murmured, staring sadly out at Esthar's skyline. Laguna's chambers had a very nice view over the city. "I know that he saw it was me...."

"Isn't Seifer on vacation?" Laguna asked, rearranging some photos of Squall and Ocean on top of a short bookcase. "Maybe him and Zell don't want to be... uhh.... Interrupted, if you catch my drift."

"Uh huh," she said without conviction.

"Just so you know, I'm talking about sex."

Normally, Edea would have smiled at Laguna's silly charm, but she just couldn't now. She was trying so hard to be close to her son, when he was only polite and cordial with her. She especially needed him now, now that Cid had a new woman.

"This is more about Cid than Seifer, isn't it?" Laguna asked, smiling at an especially cute picture of Ocean sitting on a swing. Oh, how she looked like Squall and Raine... "About him and Eileen?"

"Eirene," Edea corrected, that name burned into her memory. She'd never officially met Cid's new 'friend', but she had seen them together. She'd come to Garden to surprise him, to try and get him to talk with her, and she'd seen him with this redheaded, athletic looking woman who had a boisterous, infectious laugh. She hadn't even been able to go over to them, especially not after seeing them kiss. She'd just left Garden without Cid even knowing she was there. "I just...." She sighed. "Never mind."

"I'm here for you, you know?" He said quietly, crossing the room and putting his hands on her shoulders.

"I know you are, Laguna." She reached up and patted the back of his hand.

"Then, why won't you let me be there for you?" He asked, his voice a whisper and full of desperation and urgency. "I love you, Edea."

Her shoulders slumped under his hands. "I know. I love you too, but...."

"Maybe we were meant to be together?" Laguna asked rhetorically.

"Or, maybe we just broke Cid's heart and destroyed my marriage."

"We aren't the only people ever to cheat...."

"Is that supposed to make it better?" She asked hotly, looking angrily up at him.

"No, no...." He sighed, walking around to face her, crouching down so he was looking up into her face. "Just.... It happened, Edea. You can't destroy yourself to make up for it." Laguna then kissed the top of her head.

She sighed as his lips lingered over her hair. It felt so nice to have him comforting her like this, and to have his hands and lips touching her. "Even if I don't destroy myself, Laguna.... My guilt will destroy any chance we have." She patted

Daeva's upper lip curled into a sneer as he hitched his backpack up further on one broad shoulder. "Would you kindly get the fuck out of my way?" Daeva asked after they'd all stared at each other in surprise for some long, silent moments.

It was true that time had altered Daeva's appearance. He'd always been a balance between human and faerie blood, but the longer he was away from his birth-given fey magic, the more human his appearance became. That's not to say that he didn't retain all of his fey beauty, because he did. But, he looked far more real, and far less magical. They could see he did indeed have physical imperfections, like a scar through his right eyebrow, and a long scar from the right corner of his mouth, dipping below his jaw line, which looked much squarer and more masculine without the veneer of glamour. His long and luxurious hair was much shorter, true. The last four years had taken their toll on the former demon. Money made the world go 'round, much like it always had since the beginning of time, so he'd had to look for work. He found jobs, but always lost them. Daeva would never admit to himself that the unemployment was his own fault. His attitude was less than jovial, and it always cost him the work. So, bitterly impoverished, he'd sold the only thing he had that was worth a lot of money. His hair. He'd shaved it completely bald, giving them every strand, which had kept him fed for a while. But, he was running out of that money. Daeva was glad to have some hair grown back. He missed his long hair, and his pointed ears and a bald head seemed to make people wary. Everyone just assumed that Daeva's ears and his eyes were because he was a Sorcerer, and this was something he just let them think. Now, his hair wasn't long enough to even put in a ponytail.

"So...." Seifer trailed off, regaining himself. "You look a little... worn."

Daeva just rolled his pretty eyes "What a brilliant assumption. Way to go, Genius." He balled one of his hands into a fist, which caused Zell and Seifer both to tense up.

"You can't touch us," Zell pointed out. "Bahamut put that protection over us." Zell at least hoped that the spell was still working, or else they could be in trouble. Diablos may have been human again, but he was still very dangerous.

Daeva's mouth turned down into a deep frown at the mention of Bahamut. It was because of Bahamut that he was here, it was because of Bahamut that he had no powers, it was because of Bahamut that he was homeless. It was because of Etanin that his heart ached. "You certainly think highly of yourselves. I have more important things to concern myself with." Daeva made a quick motion towards them, chuckling to himself when both blondes jerked backwards. He sneered again and walked away from them, heading through the main promenade to the other side of town, where he could get a train down towards Galbadia.

"He looked....tired," Zell murmured. "You think we should follow him?"

"No," Seifer replied, draping an arm over Zell's shoulders, steering him in the opposing direction. "I think we should just forget about it, the same as we've been doing every day since it all happened. I think we should just live our lives, and not dwell on the past."

"Well, you weren't being this profound while it was happening," the shorter blonde answered sulkily, though he leaned into Seifer's body, loving the weight of Seifer's arm around him.

"It's not happening now, is it?" He pointed out. "Now, c'mon babe. Let's just enjoy the play."

"But, now I'm gonna be all paranoid..." Zell looked over his shoulder, but was unable to see Daeva anymore, the crowd having swallowed him up.

"Just forget him. He's harmless now."

Zell looked up at Seifer, rolling his icy eyes. "Even you're not dumb enough to believe that."

"And, I don't want to ruin our holiday by worrying about nothing."

"I... I guess."

"That's better." Seifer tilted Zell's face up and gave him a slow kiss. "Right?"

"I guess..." Zell repeated, but his voice was far less hesitant, and far quieter and personal.

"Good." Seifer used one arm to sweep Zell into a hug, then they continued on their way towards the theatre. The line-up was pretty deep, but it was full of people discussing what they thought the play would be like, so it created good energy. Zell kept his arm tight around Seifer's waist, trying not to let his mind wander to Diablos. He didn't want to worry about what he could be planning, or if he was watching them right now.

"Relax..." Seifer whispered as they entered the warmth of the theatre.

"I am relaxed," Zell pointed out as the usher took their tickets. They were led into the auditorium by a second usher.

"Then, how come you're as stiff as a board?"

"Is this where I'm supposed to say something dirty?" Zell asked in an off-hand manner.

Seifer just looked at him, his eyes unwavering behind his glasses.

"Stop looking at me like that."

"Like what?"

"Like that. I hate it when you look at me like that."

"I'm not looking at you in any strange way."

Zell looked over into his eyes. "It makes me want to skip the play entirely and just go back to the hotel."

"Ohhhh," Seifer exclaimed quietly, chuckling to himself. "Glad I have such an effect on you, Chicken-Wuss. It's quite a boost to the ego."

"Well, when you talk like that, it makes me think less highly of you."

"You have to think highly of everyone."

"Huh?" Zell asked, distracted by the playbill.

"Because everyone's higher than you."

Zell rolled his eyes as Seifer laughed at himself. "Lame, Almasy. Just... so lame."

"You still owe me a blow job you know," Seifer said loudly enough that the snooty looking couple in front of them looked over their shoulders. Seifer just smiled and wiggled his fingers in a sarcastic wave as the lights began to dim.

"You're such a bastard," Zell whispered.

"I love you too," Seifer muttered as the lights completely dimmed, the play beginning. Zell was engrossed in it, his fingers having discovered Seifer's in the darkness. But, his mind would still occasionally wander to Daeva/Diablos. Where had he been going? What had he been doing these past years? Was he plotting revenge against them? Seifer hissed quietly a couple of times because Zell would be so lost in thought that he didn't realize he was squeezing Seifer's hand too hard. Once the play was over, they walked back to the hotel, huddled close together because of the cold night wind blowing off the ocean. They discussed the play, but Seifer could tell that Zell was distracted. After all, he was too. It had thrown him for a loop to see Daeva again, but he'd tried to think of it positively rather than worrying about it. He tried to think that they were safe, that Bahamut's rune was still protecting them. If Daeva had wanted to hurt them, he would have by now, or would have tried then in front of the blacksmith's shop.

"Look...." Seifer said once they'd gotten back to their hotel room. "He would have done something if he was going to. He looked tired and distracted. I'm sure he's got more important things to worry about than us right now. Like, trying to be human again after millions of years of being anything but human."

"I wonder what it would be like..." Zell trailed off, taking off his shoes and socks, sitting on the edge of the bed. "To lose that much power after having it for so long."

"It's probably hell," Seifer mused, draping his coat over the back of a chair. "Maybe what's the bigger hell is that it was Bahamut that did it to him."

"You think they were lovers for all that time?"

"Tiamat said that time is different for them than it is for us," Seifer pointed out, putting his hands on his hips in thought. "So, maybe they don't see each other for long stretches of time, but I think knowing that the other is there means just as much as actually seeing them."

"Tiamat hasn't talked to you much lately, huh?" Zell asked distantly.

"No. I think what happened with Bahamut threw her for a loop. Or, maybe she just doesn't have anything interesting to say."

"Do you think that throwing Diablos out of the Summon world hurt Bahamut?"

"I know it did," Seifer answered. "You could see it all over his face when it actually happened. I don't know that his expression is something that I'd forget, since I know I felt that same feeling when I thought you were going to die."

"Yeah, by Bahamut's hands," Zell interjected, his voice lowering bitterly.

"He fixed us, didn't he? He's protecting us, isn't he?"

"I wonder if they feel loneliness?" Zell asked, reaching out and grabbing the front of Seifer's pants, pulling the standing man closer. He wrapped his arms around Seifer's waist and pressed his tattooed cheek to his stomach, sighing as he felt Seifer breathe.

"I would hope not, since they can essentially live forever." Seifer pursed his lips as Zell's hands swept down over his butt. "That's something I've never wanted... to know that eternity stretches out before me."

Zell looked up at his lover. "Well, then you better hope that you don't become a GF when you die."

Seifer smiled, ruffling Zell's hair. "So.... How about that blow job?"

Daeva wrapped his arms around himself as the train left the Dollet Station, heading towards East Academy Station and Galbadia Garden. That wasn't Daeva's destination. He was just heading South. As far away from Trabia as he could get. He'd heard that there was work available in the canyons near Trabia Garden. They were building housing, people migrating from Esthar, Deling City or Timber, looking for new frontiers to forge. Daeva had been so very pampered his entire existence, but that was something he'd had to get over quickly in this new human life. Most available work was manual labour. His once pristine hands had scars and healing cuts on them, and he also had a few hangnails. He'd felt good about the prospect of a job there. Housing would have been free to all the construction crew, and the pay would have been decent. But, then it had hit him like a sledgehammer between the eyes when he'd passed a crew working on what would eventually be an apartment complex. That he wasn't the only one who had the same idea to work in Trabia. Alexander had the same thought, and had gotten there first.

It had been the first time that they'd seen each other since that day in Timber when Bahamut had stripped them of their powers. But, their eyes had met, and Daeva had known that he couldn't stay there. Even though they didn't have their magic, there just wasn't room for both of them on the same continent. Without even applying for work, Daeva had walked to Shumi village, taking a quick job mining for them, waiting for a new opportunity to open itself up to him. One of the Shumi had mentioned that Centra was also booming in terms of construction, and employment. So, that's where Daeva was going now. He shivered from the cold, but also from the weight of his feelings at seeing Alexander, as well as Sorceress Edea's child with his lover. His feelings.....

Over the millions of years of being Diablos, Daeva had felt things, but really... they were just memories of his human emotions. They were a parallel of those emotions, almost an act. Like he was trying to impersonate a human. Now that he really was human again, all his emotions felt too big for him. They were just too overwhelming, especially because everything else was overwhelming to him, too. Daeva had never been a being to get stressed out by things, but there had been more than one night where he'd cried himself to sleep because he'd just felt so small, powerless and lost. He'd thought he'd felt loneliness as Diablos, but it had never been anything near this ache that he was left with. He found that this ache was also intermingled with anger, and it felt too complex for such a frail body. His magic would have helped him now, made him feel more complete and like he had some purpose instead of wandering aimlessly. He hated Bahamut for doing this to him, but he also missed him terribly. No, he missed Etanin. He actually found that Bahamut was getting harder and harder to remember. In fact, so was the machine Alexander, and Shiva, and Leviathan, and even Diablos.

The human mind isn't meant to keep millions of years of memories. It can't even fully hold 80 or 90 years. Daeva was starting to.... Forget. He could remember his life before becoming Diablos clearly, and of course, there were things about being the Dark Messenger that he could recall instantly, but there were pockets of time, of idleness and of events that weren't terribly important, that were black spots, that were leaving him. He was forgetting Bahamut, but he dreamed of Etanin every night. He dreamed of what it felt like to have Etanin's arms around him. That strength and that confidence. But, it also angered him at the same time. Because his memories of his first life were clearer than ever now, he could also sometimes feel the fire that killed him, and it only hammered home Etanin's betrayal, and his similarities to Ronouve-Sempra.

Dollet was left behind them as they headed further into Galbadia. He thought of Seifer Almasy and Zell Dincht. He could see the wariness about them, that they were worried Daeva was going to do something to them. In reality, it didn't really cross his mind, and he didn't really think of them at all. He had more important things to worry about, like the fact that he was a nomad, and was always hungry because he barely had money for food, and that he was homeless, like having to learn about a world that had modernized without him. He had more important people to worry about, like the piercing in his gut he'd felt when his eyes had met Alexander's, like the ache in his soul, longing for Etanin.

He wound up falling asleep on the train ride, dreaming of a black-winged demon that seemed more like a fantasy than his reality, and dreaming of waking up to Etanin taking him home. When he woke up, they were going through the fields around Winhill. Winhill's climate was perfect for flower-growing all year, so the fields were dappled with lively colours. Winhill was still very small, but there was growth here, too. New buildings were being erected, Centra's growth contagious to the sleepy little town. The fields and fields of flowers touched something in Daeva, and when the train pulled into the station that had been built about ten years ago to accommodate the traffic of people stopping over on their way to Centra, Daeva got off rather than finishing the trip. While his strengths were necromancy and black magic, his faerie blood still loved nature and things alive. It was a contradiction, much like his existence itself. The graceful beauty of the fey mixed with the boorish sturdiness of a human.

Daeva hitched his backpack on his shoulders and walked into Winhill. That pack was his entire life. It contained all his belongings, and was the closest thing to a home he had. He watched with his two-tone eyes as a car drove by. They were still such odd inventions to him, but he'd started reading about them. After all, humans were dependant on them, which meant he was now, as well. The smell of flowers entered his nose as he came near where they were building a complex of some sort. He looked at all the people milling around, and found the man who seemed to be the boss.

"Can I help you?" The burly man asked, looking Daeva up and down once he'd approached. There were a few other men, and a couple women also standing around, having the same idea as Daeva. He swallowed his pride, squared his shoulders, and put on his most charming smile which, while he may not have had his glamour magic, was still thousand-watt. "Hello. I'm looking for work?"

Five years later, four months after his thirty-sixth birthday, was the day that Squall died. It was a normal day for him. He'd gone to work, did some paperwork, had a frigid conversation with Rinoa when she'd come in for her job with Ocean. This is what happened every day. Not much changed in Squall's life. Ocean would come up to his office with him while Rinoa did her work. She still worked in the cultural department, and Squall was still in his same office. Though, he didn't go out on SeeD missions anymore. He was getting too old for that, and he had too many administrative duties. Cid was still Headmaster, though it was mostly in name alone, and Quistis ran the show. Xu was still the head of the legal tribunal, but after Zell's disaster of a hearing, Quistis had put her 'friend' on a very short leash. That word friend was used very loosely, for Xu never forgave Quistis for appointing Nida as her right-hand, and Quistis never really forgave Xu for her behaviour towards Seifer and Zell. Squall wasn't sure that Quistis had really forgiven him, either. But, Ocean's company made him forget about that, and really not care. Today was only different because Squall was taking Ocean to the pet store in Balamb Town. She was going to pick out a kitten. Squall and Rinoa thought she was old enough to handle the responsibility of a pet now, as she was nearing 9 years old.

It had all happened so fast. Squall was driving his now antique Tempest. Perhaps he was going too fast. He always did like to drive her hard. One minute they'd been driving along the Balamb Highway, and the next everything had started spinning. A car had ducked out from behind a tractor-trailer to illegally pass it, and Squall had been going too fast to react properly, and had spun out of control. The other car had smashed into the driver's side, while the tractor-trailer had overturned, right on top of the hood of the Tempest. It had split the Tempest in half, Squall's side pinned under the large rig. He'd heard screaming, then white noise. He heard Ocean screaming, but she sounded so far away.

Squall looked down at his fists, which were balled in the grass. He could hear his baby screaming. He whipped his head around, and saw the mangled three-car wreck a mile up the Highway. He must have been flung from the car. He could hear her screaming, and he could see blood splattered all over the shattered windshield of his car. On the driver's side of the car. He found it hard to breathe as he stared confused at the mangled wreck. But, it wasn't any sort of shock that made Squall lose his breath. It was power. Sheer power.

"It's nice to see you again, Squall."

Squall had to make a huge effort to tear his eyes away from the crash. He looked over his shoulder and saw a vaguely familiar person standing behind him, wearing a knee-length brown leather coat with unsheared sheep's wool lining. He had aviator sunglasses perched on his chocolate brown hair, and was lighting a cigarette with brown leather gloved hands. The last time he'd seen this man was when he'd been chopping Zell and Seifer apart. Bahamut's human form.

"You're surprised to see me," Etanin mused, taking a long drag from the cigarette. Smoking was a habit he'd had before becoming Bahamut. After becoming the King of Dragons, his desire for smoking lessened. It was a human vice that he'd forgotten about when he'd ceased to be human. But, sometimes when he was in human form, the old craving would come back. Cigarettes now were much different than the ones he'd smoked as a man, but the desire for the habit was still there, especially lately that there was a gaping hole in the Ancient Court. Alexander's absence meant nothing to him, but he missed Daeva sorely. "But, that's to be expected."

Squall looked back at the wreckage, still hearing his beloved Ocean screaming.

"You may be a little too shocked to connect the dots, but I'm sure you realized what happened, at least deep down." He took a few steps towards Squall, but kept far enough away as to not invade his personal space.

"That's my blood," Squall said hollowly.

"It is."

"Ocean's dying."

"She's alive."

Squall's eyes looked down the highway towards Balamb Town when he heard sirens. "I.... I died."

Etanin cocked his head, looking down into Squall's pale and shocked face. Squall looked up into Etanin's black eyes, the King of Summons' human form an inch or so taller than Seifer was. "I, as Bahamut, the Lord of Dragons and King of the Ancient Court, welcome thee, Griever."

While Squall was staring dumbfounded at Etanin Alwaid, Laguna was silently driving back towards Balamb Town, Edea in the passenger seat. Normally, if Laguna was at Garden, he would have spent some time with Squall and Ocean, but he had a lot of things on his mind. Like the papers that Edea had just dropped off to Cid. Laguna had seen her golden brown eyes sweep Cid's desk as she'd delivered the signed divorce papers. Her eyes had swept the pictures, seeing ones of Cid and Eirene, and one of Seifer as a boy. There were none of her anymore. They'd only really said pleasantries, and Edea had left the office with her back straight, even though she wanted to dissolve into tears. So... it was over. Laguna was the only thing keeping her together. She'd called Seifer, but there had been no answer. She'd known there would be no answer, since it was the middle of the day in Timber, and he would have been at work. But, she'd wanted to hear his voice, even if it was just his answering machine. Things still weren't great between mother and son, but they were progressing.

"What now...?" Laguna asked as he had to slow down. There was a line of cars stalled ahead of them. "Hmm... must have been an accident or something." He looked over at her. "Do you just want to go straight back to Esthar, or to Centra....?"

"I don't know," she whispered. "I think I just...." She trailed off. "I can smell blood. Someone died ahead."

Laguna never questioned when Edea said something like that. She could sense things that other people couldn't. "Hmmm, yeah... what a mess." Laguna then swerved his car off to the shoulder of the road and got out of the car. Edea had morosely been staring off into space, and watched with confusion as Laguna got out of the car and ran towards the accident. Her eyes moved towards the massive wreck, surrounded by emergency vehicles and police. Her eyebrows shot up when she saw why Laguna had gone running. In the middle of that horrible accident was a familiar car. Squall's antique Tempest, twisted and splattered with gore from the inside. The emergency team had pulled Ocean from the car, and she was screaming and crying, the whole left side of her body drenched in blood. Someone else's blood. "Oh, Hyne..." She got out of the car.

"That's my son!" Laguna screamed when the police wouldn't let him any closer to the accident. "Squall?!" He cried.

Squall looked away from Etanin when he heard his name being called. "Laguna...?"

"Squall?" Laguna yelled again. The paramedic with Ocean in his arms took her to an ambulance to check her out. Two more were pulling Squall out of the wreck, his body broken and gore-covered. When they got him out, Laguna let out a horrible scream.

"Laguna?" Squall asked again, walking towards the accident.

"SQUALL!" Laguna screamed. "That's my son!" He shouted to the police holding him back. "I'm the President of Esthar! Let me in!!" Laguna started wailing, falling to his knees. Edea had gone to the ambulance where Ocean was. They'd given her some light sedatives so they could check her more thoroughly.

"Laguna!" Squall shouted, starting to run towards him. "Dad, I'm here!" Squall shouted as Laguna pushed past the police that were struggling to hold him back. Squall watched in horror as Laguna embraced Squall's bloody and shattered corpse in his arms, crying and screaming his name. "Dad?!" Squall screamed. He tried to go closer, but was stopped by Etanin firmly gripping his elbow.

"He can't see you."

Squall's eyes filled with tears as he watched Laguna being torn off his body. Edea had come over and was now whispering to him. "Laguna... Ocean needs you right now. She needs her grandpa."

Laguna wept into his bloody hands. Hands covered in his son's blood.

"Dad!" Squall shouted again.

"He can't hear you, either."

"Daddy..." Squall whimpered, falling to his knees. Running into his father's arms was something he'd never really desired to do after the age of six, but God, he wanted to do it now. "This has to be an awful dream."

"We aren't really here. We're in a parallel existence of this world. Much like Daeva created in Timber...." Etanin trailed off when Daeva's name fell from his lips. "Come along."

"But... Ocean.... My daughter. I can't leave her."

"You're dead, Griever. You've already left her."

"I'm not Griever!" Squall shouted, rising to his feet. "I fought Griever! I saw Griever!" He stalked forward and gripped the lapels of Etanin's leather jacket. Etanin let him do this without any reaction. "You're wrong!" He shouted into Bahamut's human face. "Now, let me see my father. Let me see my little girl!" In his anger, the ground around them started to shake, and Squall's hands turned into claws. He stumbled back, gasping in horror as he looked at his fingers, which had long claws, looking like animal paws. Like... a lion.

"You fought yourself," Etanin informed. "Unless you've forgotten, when you fought Griever as a child, you were in Ultimecia's Time Compression. You were in the future."

Squall slammed his eyes shut as he heard Laguna screaming his name again. He fell to his knees once more. "I want my dad...." He started weeping, and when he was pulled up to his feet by Etanin, he started attacking the Lord of Dragons. He punched Etanin's chest and face, screaming incoherently in his face. His fists were held by Etanin's strong hands, and Squall collapsed against his chest, weeping. Etanin's arms came around him, and held him in a very fatherly way. Squall's reaction to his life after his death was actually pretty common. Most of the others of the Court had also taken their death badly.

"You're lying to me, right?" Squall asked desperately. "I mean... I... I... I can't be Griever. I can't!"

"You can, and you are."

"Liar!" Squall screamed, lashing out at Etanin again. This time, his cheek was deeply scratched by claw marks. Marks that came from the claws that were in place of Squall's fingers in his rage. The cuts on Etanin's cheek healed nearly instantly, closing up quickly.

"It is not in my nature to lie, Squall." He then extended his hand to Squall. "Now, come. We have much to discuss, and I have much to teach you."

Squall looked at Etanin's hand, then over his shoulders, which were heaving and shaking with his struggle to get air and to compose himself. Even with the scene of his own grisly death in the background, Squall's nature to block his emotions was still fighting for control. "But... Ocean..."

"She'll be fine."

Before Squall turned to look back into Etanin's too handsome face, he saw a good glimpse of his own body. Laguna had finally calmed himself down, now getting into the back of the ambulance that was taking Ocean to the Balamb Town hospital. A part of his mind didn't let him comprehend what he was seeing. It was too gory, too horrible. He was so mangled that he didn't really look human anymore, and there was more than just blood leaking out of him. His mind didn't let him comprehend that he was actually seeing his organs falling out of his own body as they tried to move him, and he also didn't really comprehend that half his face was mush, the skin and muscles having been ripped off, and the bones fractured beyond recognition. He touched that side of his face, finding it intact under his fingertips. He looked back at Etanin, who was watching him calmly, and with infinite patience. Like they had all the time in world. It suddenly hit Squall that if he was indeed Griever, he did have all the time in the world.

Squall hesitantly extended his hand, and took Bahamut's. He gasped as he felt like he was being pulled forward by his intestines, and then they were in a very familiar place. Squall's office in Garden. He looked around, seeing that it was just as he left it. "What....?"

"This is part of your power base," Etanin explained, sitting in Squall's leather chair, crossing his legs and looking very regal and king-like as he regarded Squall, tenting his gloved fingers. "We all have to have a home, and this is yours."


"This is what you created, without even knowing it. This is where you feel most comfortable. Your home may change as you become older, as you hone your powers."

"But... if I made it.... How did you bring me here."

Etanin smirked. "I can do anything I want."

Squall stared at him for a long time. Part of him wanted to ask Bahamut to get out of his chair. He eventually sat in the chair that was usually for visitors in his office. "So... is this really Garden....?"

"Yes, and no. It's a parallel version of Garden. It is Garden, but your recreation of it. Each of us has a recreation of something as our home. I have my castle, which you will see eventually."

"We can travel to each other's homes?" Squall asked. We. He was already thinking that he belonged here. He didn't. He belonged with Ocean.

"Briefly. It's taxing, because you'd be entering not only pure magic, but another being's magic. It is essentially a spell. Though, because I am King, I am able to come and go as I please. As are the messengers."

"You mean Diablos."

Squall saw Bahamut's expression change, darken and sadden. "Yes. Though... now Siren, since Diablos is currently exiled."

"For how long?"

"We aren't here to discuss that." Etanin waved a hand. "Now, I know it's hard for you to believe, but you are indeed Griever, Lord of Lions."

"What does that mean? Lord of Lions...?"

"We all have titles. You, because of your animalistic power, can have power over felines or other animals, much like I can control dragons."

"How come I'm not changing fully.....?" Squall looked at his hands, which were back to human shape.

"Because you're clinging desperately to the idea of still being human. But, do not worry. Quite a few of the Court do stay in human form quite often."

"Do you?"

"I'm in human form now, aren't I? About fifty percent of the time, I am in human form. Less now that..." He trailed off. "Manannan stays in human form much of the time, for he can't exist outside of the ocean when in true form."

"Manannan... that's Leviathan...."

"Yes. You'll see them all in time. Now... there is a big issue that I think we should discuss first, because it directly affects you. Time Compression. It's something that all of us will have to deal with, because of the impact of time even on us, but with you... it is quite different."

"How could I fight myself?"

"You don't really fight yourself. If you recall, Ultimecia Junctions herself onto you. This is quite different than when we are Junctioned and called. It is a reversal of that. What you will do to protect yourself is let her Junction onto a parallel of yourself, much like this office is a parallel to the real office. Since, as you know, we can die. If Ultimecia Junctioned herself purely onto you, you would die."

"Like Odin died.... When Seifer killed him."

"Yes." Etanin stood up and started walking around the office, examining photographs and the books on Squall's shelves. "You're really quite fascinating, you know?"

"What do you mean, Bahamut?" Squall frowned a little. Saying it out loud really hammered home that he wasn't talking to a mere human.

Etanin looked over his shoulder, raising an amused eyebrow. "You really don't have to call me Bahamut. Most of the Court refer to me as My Lord, but you may call me Etanin if you wish. And, you fascinate me because we haven't had a new member to the Court in quite some time, and we've never had a member that used our power while they were human. It is this connection that allows you to call me by my given name."

"Is Diablos the only other one who can?" Squall asked.

"Leviathan does, too." Etanin crossed his arms. "Now, we should practice your powers. After all, you must learn control." Squall's office vanished away, and they wound up in an open courtyard that Squall was unfamiliar with. It was a wide circle with walking paths and beautiful fountains featuring faeries or men with wings. Tall stone walls rose up all around them.

"Where are we...?"

"A courtyard in my castle." Etanin stared at Squall for a while, and then became his true form, which was more familiar to Squall than Etanin Alwaid was. He sat with his wings folded on his back, black eyes staring at Squall. "Now, you will find that you can speak the language of the Court without having to learn it. It's something that comes when your powers do. It may be a good idea to learn a few of our personal languages, but it's not necessary. Now, change into your true form."

Squall just kind of looked at the huge dragon, finding that he could hear him speaking, even though his mouth hadn't moved. Now that he was concentrating on becoming something other than himself, he couldn't. "How?"

"You're trying too hard. Don't think of it. Just feel it."

Squall closed his eyes, wondering what the fuck that was supposed to mean. He searched his mind, but found there were too many thoughts jumbling up in there. Instead, he let his mind go blank, and felt almost like a newborn when he wasn't concentrating on all the new information that was crashing down on him. He just concentrated on feelings, like Bahamut said. It almost felt like he was Junctioning a new GF. Except that it wasn't an alien force, it was himself. He tapped into that feeling, and could actually feel the magic running through his veins like blood. He breathed out because it felt so good, and didn't even feel it when his body changed. He changed into a great lion-esque creature with furs in black with a purple hue. He had horns like a crown extending from his forehead, that appeared red, but it was really because they were stained with blood. Same with the long nails that came from his paws. He also had huge wings extending from his back, and was nearing the same size as Bahamut when in true form, though the dragon was much larger in terms of wingspan. Squall didn't need to see his reflection to know what he'd looked like, because he saw himself before within Ultimecia's Castle. One thing that Squall had never noticed while fighting Griever was that his lion face had blue eyes, and a scar between them.

"Very good," Bahamut mused. Squall could swear the dragon was smiling. "We'll continue to practice transformations, then work on other such things, like your power itself."

Griever couldn't help but be proud as he and Bahamut became Squall and Etanin once more. He actually quite enjoyed Etanin's praise, because he was sure that the King didn't dole it out often. It felt very... paternal. "Again," Etanin commanded gently.

Zell stood in front of the full-length mirror on the inside of his closet in his old bedroom back at Ma's house. He was slowly trying to perfect the knot on his black tie, but he found that his fingers felt numb, and he kept slipping.

"Here...." Seifer was sitting on the edge of the bed, and crossed the room to help his lover with his tie. "I'll do it." Seifer started knotting Zell's tie, and when he was done, smoothed it down on Zell's chest. "There." He was going to get his vest, but was stopped when Zell's hands reached up and gripped Seifer's tightly.

Zell looked like he was going to say something, but nothing came out. He couldn't think of anything worth saying at a moment like this. A moment where he and Seifer were in his childhood bedroom, dressing for Squall's funeral. "Seifer....?"

"Hmmm?" Seifer stroked Zell's hair, looking down into his pale eyes with love and sympathy.

"Do you think I'm a bad person for not totally forgiving Squall for the Tribunal thing?"

"Don't," Seifer stated firmly, yet so very gently. "Squall never thought you were a bad person, and he knew that you loved him."

Zell let out a shaky breath, a couple of tears working their way out of his eyes. He sobbed when Seifer collected him in a so very familiar hug, and started weeping into Seifer's chest. Seifer started crying too, his tears silently falling into Zell's hair. They both sniffled and gasped to hold back tears when there was a knock on the closed bedroom door. The door was slowly pushed open, and Ocean came in. She'd gotten off far luckier than Squall had in the accident, and even the others. Ocean was the only one to have survived the crash. Seifer and Zell didn't know the full condition of Squall's body, but judging from Laguna's haunted face, and Rinoa's reaction after going to the morgue, it was bad. Ocean had only suffered a few cuts on her face and a broken arm, but the emotional scarring was what was the deepest. She'd never get over being covered in her father's blood, losing him so quickly and so brutally.

"Grandma Dincht says we're supposed to go soon," she said quietly. She thought of Zell's mother as her grandmother, just like she also thought of Edea as her grandmother, especially because both Squall and Rinoa's mothers had died, so she didn't have them. "But...." She scratched at her cast. "I don't wanna...." She started crying and ran towards Seifer, gripping him around the legs, wailing like only a child can in that heartbreaking way. Ocean had always liked Seifer. She'd sensed that Squall had great respect for him, even if they didn't seem to always be the best of friends. She liked how strong he was when he picked her up, and all the neat things in jars in his basement.

"It's okay," Seifer whispered, picking up Squall's daughter. She sobbed loudly into the side of his neck. "You can say goodbye to him."

"I don't wanna go in a car!" She wailed. "Don't make me go in a car!"

Seifer stroked her light brown hair, looking at Zell with his brow knitted together in sorrow. "You don't have to go in a car, sweetie. We can walk instead."

She kept crying, but her sobs were getting quieter, until she was just sniffling. "We should leave now then, if we're going to walk," Zell pointed out.

Seifer nodded and put Ocean down. He put on his vest and jacket, and then picked up the little girl again as they went downstairs. Ma Dincht was in the kitchen. Cooking was her way of dealing with sorrow and stress. Rinoa was sitting in the living room, staring morosely at the wall.

"Rinoa..." Zell said gently as Seifer and Ocean went into the kitchen. Ma Dincht gave Ocean a brownie, and Seifer started telling her that they'd be walking rather than going in a car. Ma Dincht understood immediately. "Rinoa?" Squall asked again when she hadn't acknowledged him. "Rinoa!"

She finally looked over. "Oh.... Zell."

He stared down angrily at her. He knew that she was really under a lot of stress right now. After all, how would Zell feel if Seifer had died in a car accident? And, there was the whole point that Rinoa had lost Squall the same way she's lost her mother. This must have been like horrible déjà vu. But.... Ocean needed her mother right now, and she needed her mother to be strong. Just like he was sure Rinoa's father had to be strong and hide his grief for his daughter's sake. "We're going to walk to the funeral home instead."

"Walk...?" She echoed, her eyes looking dead. There were dark circles under them. "Why?"

"Because Ocean doesn't want to go in a car," Zell whispered, not wanting her to overhear them.

"She doesn't....?"

"Rinoa!" Zell hissed, his temper starting to rise. "Her father was just killed in a car. I can imagine cars aren't her favourite things right now."

"But, the car's already rented.... She'll have to get used to cars again..."

Zell glared at her. "Rinoa, pull yourself together. Ocean needs her mommy to be her rock right now."

"Squall just died!" She shouted. "How dare you tell me to pull myself together! I just lost the only important thing to me. Just like my mom."

"Come on, Ocean. Let's start walking," Seifer said gently as Rinoa's outburst carried through to the kitchen. As Seifer left with her, they could hear her starting to quietly cry again.

"You don't have to remind me that Squall is dead," Zell started lowly. "You don't think I realize it? You don't think I regret not being able to take back every mean thing I ever said to him? But, do you think your daughter needs to hear that her surviving the crash and being alive is less important to you than losing Squall?"

Rinoa just stared back at the wall again.

"Rinoa?!" Zell demanded angrily. When she didn't reply, he cursed under his breath and said "you're hopeless." He kissed his mother on the cheek, and then went outside to follow Seifer and Ocean. They hadn't gone far, and were sitting on the steps outside the front door. Seifer was stroking her hair and talking about the last time he'd fought a Ruby Dragon, trying to distract her and seeming to succeed. Zell watched them for a few silent moments. Seifer really was good with her. Squall must have sensed it, too. After all, Seifer and Squall had always been very much alike, at least deep down. Adopting children had never been something that Seifer and Zell had discussed, and Zell was pretty sure that Seifer actually didn't want children, but it still softened Zell's heart and made him feel something pleasant in all this sadness.

Seifer looked up as Ocean concentrated on eating the rest of her brownie. Zell smiled sadly at him, and Seifer returned the gesture.

"Ready to go?" Zell asked of Squall's daughter quietly.

Her lower lip quivered as if she were going to start crying, but her eyes showed deep resolve and strength, so much like her father. She nodded and said in a voice that seemed too mature for her, "yes." She walked ahead of Seifer and Zell, her hands folded in front of her. They both kept their eye on her, walking slowly as well. Zell looped his arm through Seifer's, and spoke after a long period of silence, voice not rising above a whisper.

"I can't believe Rinoa's being so selfish."

"People do and say things they maybe shouldn't in moments of grief. How would either of us feel if we lost the person we loved most in the world?"

"Neither of us has a child to worry about," Zell pointed out.

Seifer didn't reply. Zell knew the other man well enough to know that this meant while he wanted to argue the point, he couldn't think of anything to respond with. When they got to the funeral home, it was crowded with people getting out of expensive looking cars. Seifer only recognized about half the faces. The other half were all entourage members.

"What's going on...?" Zell wondered. "Squall didn't have this many friends."

"They're dignitaries," Seifer pointed out as Ocean dashed towards the home, running straight into Laguna's arms. "They're here to pay their respects to Laguna, since he's the President of Esthar."

"Where's everyone else?" Laguna asked, patting Ocean's head and looking at Seifer and Zell with his haunted eyes. All his typical Laguna Loire charm and light was extinguished, leaving him with an almost ghoulish look.

"Ocean wanted to walk," Seifer stated.

"Ah." That was all Laguna said. But, he didn't need to say any more. He perfectly understood. Edea and Ellone were standing in the doorway, greeting people as they entered.

"Poor Uncle Laguna," Elle whispered to Zell and Seifer as they went in. "He wants to grieve for Squall so badly, but because he's such a public figure, he has to reserve it for a more 'appropriate' time." She shook her head. "And.... He wants to be strong for Ocean."

"At least someone's trying to be," Zell muttered bitterly. "Sorry, sorry. Now's not the time to be mean."

Ellone patted his shoulder. "I know what you're saying, Zell. I think it isn't really just about how Rinoa's acting, but also how he acted when he first saw the accident. He feels badly that he let Ocean see him fall apart, because she needed him to be strong."

"I think Ocean's the strongest one in this whole situation," Seifer murmured. He looked over when Cid and Eirene came into the home. Cid and Edea embraced briefly, a very pained and awkward hug. Eirene patted Edea's hand and followed Cid to where they would be sitting. There was no coffin, since Squall's wishes had been to be cremated. And, even if there had been a casket, it would have definitely been closed.

"Oh, Seifer..." Edea trailed off, watching as her now ex-husband and his new lady sat down. "Squall was so young...."

"People die at younger ages."

"How are you?" She asked, tearing her golden brown eyes away from Cid and looking up into Seifer's face. "How's Zell?"

"Holding up as well as can be expected," he said. "He's kind of angry at Rinoa right now. He doesn't think she's handling Ocean well."

Edea pursed her lips. "I fear there is more to the problem between Rinoa and Ocean than just Squall's death. Laguna's concerned about her."

"He looks terrible."

She shook her head, tucking a strand of ebony hair that had slipped out from her bun behind her ear. "He hasn't slept in days. It was quite the bad accident, and... well, it gives me nightmares as well. I'm just glad that Ocean can't remember all the visuals of it."

"You gave him the papers that day, didn't you?" Seifer asked, changing the subject.

"I did," she said after a long sigh. "But, that's not really important right now. How do you feel about that?"

Seifer was a bit confused by the question. "About what?"

"About us divorcing."

He shook his head, shrugging. "I don't really have an opinion. It doesn't really affect me."

"You're our son, Seifer. Of course it affects you."

"Well... your relationship seemed very strong for a lot of years, but there must have been a reason that you fell into bed with Laguna." Seifer kept his voice very low as he spoke. "Something besides sex. You both have more willpower than that. There must have been a real, genuine attraction. And, to keep yourself in a marriage where you're not totally committed to the other person seems kind of foolish." His eyes looked away from Edea's face and towards where Zell was standing, still talking to Ellone. "You should focus on committing yourself to someone that you really love, not who you feel obligated to love."

"I'm really happy that you and Zell found such happiness together," she whispered, patting his forearm, letting her hand linger there as her eyes became watery. "Times like this make you appreciate the joy in life so much more acutely. Squall was happy for you, too."

"I find that a little hard to believe," he muttered with a small snort.

"He had to confide in someone. Squall may have kept a lot of his emotions a secret, but sometimes they had to just come out. He talked to me a couple times about what had happened between him and Zell, and the regrets he had over it. Yes...." She trailed off. "Squall was surprised, but he was genuinely glad that Zell found someone he loved, and who loved him back. He'd always been a little concerned that Zell was lonely." Edea looked over. She'd been concentrated on Seifer, so hadn't noticed when Zell had come up to stand next to them. He looked stricken at what he heard Edea saying.

"He..... He really said all that to you?" Zell asked quietly.

She nodded. "He did." Her attention was caught by someone that neither Seifer or Zell recognized motioning for Edea to come over. "Excuse me." She stroked her son's arm, and patted Zell's shoulder as she passed by them to talk to the man across the room.

Zell bit his lip and looked up at Seifer. "He really felt all that stuff.... And, I never wanted to hear him out. I never wanted to believe that he was actually sorry. And, now he's gone. He's.... forever..." Zell shook his head, letting out the smallest noise of deep pain and sorrow. Seifer collected Zell in his arms as the shorter man began sobbing. Seifer's breath was taken away by how tightly Zell was gripping onto him, and he shut his eyes firmly when deep ache washed through him. Not only sadness and shock at Squall's sudden death, but in empathy with Zell's grief. He kissed the top of Zell's head, stroking his back. Nobody was really paying them any attention because they were too wrapped up in their own grief. One face was watching them though, and it caught Seifer's attention. Their eyes only met very briefly, with the silver-haired child with electric blue eyes giving Seifer the slightest of nods. In the time it took for Seifer to blink, the boy was gone, though the tall blonde could swear he could smell the ocean. Perhaps this was just because they were in Balamb, and it always smelled like the sea.

Zell noticed the change in Seifer's demeanour, and pulled away, wiping hastily at his soaked cheeks. "What is it...?" He asked.

"I think I'm just seeing things..." Seifer murmured. He then noticed that people were starting to file into their seats. "It's going to start."

Zell rubbed his forehead and let out a shaky breath. "Right. I better collect myself before I have to speak." Instead of having a minister of some sort from a religion that Squall didn't believe in say things about him, people that knew Squall were going to give words of memory and farewell, and Zell and Seifer were among that list. Seifer had to go first actually, so he started to collect his thoughts.

As people sat down, and as Seifer got up to speak about his complex relationship with Squall, and his equally complex feelings about the other man, all eyes were turned to him, some crying, some smiling wistfully. One pair was thoughtful, standing in the doorway of the funeral home, watching without anyone seeing him. Manannan hadn't meant for Seifer to see him, but had come to Griever's funeral to sate his own curiosity. After all, it wasn't often that someone new came to the Court, and it was even rarer to be able to attend their funeral. He knew that Squall's new self was with their King now. After Daeva, and even Etanin himself, had destroyed their human kingdoms upon becoming Diablos and Bahamut, the Lord of Dragons didn't want a repeat of that sort of event. Often, anger comes with death, especially a violent death, and anger in the form of an inexperienced Summon is an extremely dangerous thing. True, Squall didn't die at the hands of others, but Manannan was quite sure Squall wasn't happy about the whole death thing in the least. As Selphie Tilmitt got up to speak about Squall, Manannan turned and left, dropping his invisibility when he neared the piers of Balamb Harbour. He stood at the edge of the pier among casual fishermen, spreading his arms out and deeply breathing in the fresh, salty smell that permeated everything in Balamb Town. The beautiful smell of the sea. He turned his back to the edge of the pier, looking up at the clear blue sky.

"Hey, kid!" One of the fishermen shouted as Manannan leaned back, falling towards the surface of the water. "Hey, watch out!" The fisherman scrambled to the edge of the pier when he heard the splash, but there was no child, no nothing. Under the surface of the water, he could see a great long shadow swimming quickly with the slithering movements of a snake, going out towards open water. The fisherman gripped the edge of the pier, his knuckles white, eyes still searching for the boy who had fallen into the water. But, there was nobody.

Zell took off his scarf and overcoat, hanging them in the closet with slow, methodical movements. He took Seifer's coat from him and also hung it up. They'd said barely two words to each other since leaving Balamb's train station. Really, what was there to say? Zell was just tired and emotionally spent. He climbed the stairs, stripping off his black suit and just leaving it scattered all over the floor. He was tired, but he couldn't fall asleep. It wasn't the tired that could be cured by that. It was the tired that came from being mentally drained, and feeling numb all over. He kept replaying memories that involved Squall in his mind over and over again, both the good and the bad. He thought of all the things he wished he'd said, and all the things he wished he'd done differently. They'd stayed behind in Balamb for a couple of weeks after the funeral, just to help out with things. Rinoa was completely falling apart, and her father had insisted on her going back to Deling City, away from Garden and all the reminders of Squall, and where he could keep an eye on her. After much discussion, she'd agreed, and her and Ocean were in the process of moving back to Rinoa's childhood home.

Zell knew he'd been laying on the bed, staring up at the bland ceiling for a while, because it had gotten dark out. Seifer also hadn't come up at all. Zell supposed he went down to the basement to lose himself in work. Eventually, within the stretch of hours, Zell could hear Seifer's footsteps coming up the stairs. Seifer also took off his suit, but folded his neatly on top of the hamper in the corner of the room, doing the same for Zell's discarded clothing. Normally it was Zell who was the neat freak and had to clean everything, but he just couldn't think about those sort of menial tasks right now. Zell slowly looked over as their bed dipped beside him. Seifer didn't lay down, but instead sat beside Zell, looking down into his face.

"You know.... It seemed like we would all live forever. It's a stupid thing to think, but we all seemed almost invincible."

Seifer didn't respond at all, other than his fingers tracing over Zell's cheekbone and the lines of his tattoo. He very well knew that 'we' meant the group of them that had gone back in Time Compression and defeated Ultimecia. "I... I mean, I knew it wasn't true, that we would die eventually. I mean... we're all human, and humans die. But...." He covered his face with his hands. "Squall was supposed to live forever."

"That's not possible sweetheart," Seifer whispered, bowing forward and draping his arms across Zell's shoulders, pressing his cheek to the side of Zell's neck.

"I know it's not possible. But... I just didn't ever imagine having to go to Squall's funeral. Ocean doesn't have a father now... I guess history's repeating itself by making her an orphan. And, Rinoa's falling apart...." He sighed. "I'm mad at her for not being strong for Ocean, but I guess I can understand. I'd be a fucking mess if you died, which could actually happen. I mean... monsters kill people all the time."



"I'm not dead."

"But, it could happen."

"Of course it could happen," Seifer murmured, lips pressing to Zell's throat in between words. "And, it will happen. Eventually, I'll die. And, you'll die. I don't want to imagine being without you, but it's something that will happen. Every couple has to deal with it, ever parent and child does. But, it's not something I'm going to dwell on."

"I love you, you know?" Zell said, wrapping his arms tightly around Seifer. "You do know that, right?"

"Yes, I know."

"I just want you to know how I feel... in case I never get to say it to you again."

"Stop it," Seifer commanded, sitting up and looking down at Zell. "I'm not goin' anywhere, Dincht."

Zell reached up and stroked the side of Seifer's face with the backs of his fingers, and then gripped Seifer's shoulders and yanked him down for a kiss. Selphie had once told Zell years ago that after funerals was a good time to have hot sex, something he'd scoffed at when she's said it. After all, it was hardly appropriate, and how could you be horny after such a sad event? But, as Seifer's hands touched him, and as their mouths searched one another's, Zell knew what she'd been talking about. Yes, he was so very sad about losing Squall, but with each beat of his heart, it felt like it was exploding in his chest as he touched and was touched by Seifer. It felt good to have someone touching him, confirming the feeling of life as his blood pumped as his heart beat.

Seifer felt the same sort of desperate feelings for love and contact that Zell was feeling, and his hands lavishly stroked over Zell's bare skin, pressing his body firmly down on Zell's, pressing firmly with his pelvis against the other man's. He was doing it hard enough that they slid up the mattress, the blankets bunching under them and becoming untucked. Zell let out a high-pitched little moan as Seifer's crotched pressed down onto his own, both of them hard. Both of their hands shook with desperation as they ran their fingers all over each other's skin, and Zell was making mewling noises he'd never made before as Seifer's mouth tore off his, and started moving down in a straight line down the center of Zell's body. He gasped Seifer's name as the other man's tongue reached the tip of Zell's penis. Zell writhed on the bed, his arms flailing to his sides, fists tightly gripping the sheets, the first thing they could find. He moaned and gasped, his entire body on fire with how sensitive his nerves were. Seifer had given him oral sex hundreds of times, maybe even thousands of times, but in times of great emotional height like this, it felt so very different from all the other times, which had of course been fantastic, but hadn't had this same feeling of huge need and desperation attached to them.

The world was blurry to Zell's eyes as Seifer's mouth covered more of his erection, his tongue doing things that made Zell's chest hurt, like there was a big weight on it, like he was having a heart attack. Seifer's hand started to fondle Zell's testicles, his tongue slowly going around and around the shaft of Zell's cock, then moving up to lick across the head, the tip of his tongue nimbly probing the other man's urethra, then sliding back down the length of his penis. He palmed Zell's scrotum, his index and middle finger slowly trailing the underside of Zell's testicles, moving lower and farther until they were teasing the opening to his body. When Seifer's finger started to slowly push into him, Zell's body arched up off the mattress, his head lolling to the side, looking at his nightstand. His hand started fumbling at the drawer, yanking it open. When Seifer deep-throated him, Zell's hand constricted into a fist, and some things were knocked out of the drawer.

Seifer opened his eyes when he heard some things falling to the carpet. He smiled around Zell's penis, knowing that his lover was searching for the condoms. He slowly and agonizingly pulled his mouth off Zell's penis, his fingers still stimulating Zell's rectum from within. When Seifer's mouth pulled off him, Zell let out a little moan of desperation and eagerness. Seifer was very glad when Zell finally got his hands on the box of condoms and chucked it at him, for he was finding it hard to ignore how painfully hard he was. He hastily ripped open one of them, groaning when he put it on himself. Zell was moaning, hips arched up off the bed, rubbing his pelvis against Seifer's genitals and thighs, desperate for any sort of stimulation. Through his moans, garbled and incoherent words were falling out, mostly words that were begging Seifer to fuck him. He was rolled over and quickly jammed into. There was discomfort, but it was a discomfort that Zell didn't mind, and rather craved at that moment.

Zell bowed forward so that his cheek was pressed flat to the bed, wanting it deep, wanting it hard. Seifer's hands were strong and firm on his hips, and Zell moaned loudly with each thrust against him, each time Seifer's penis claimed him, stroked through him, rubbed against the walls of his rectum and stimulated his prostate. Seifer's hands slid up Zell's back, then down his arms, their fingers curling together. They were both moaning loudly with each thrust, the groans so violent they were beginning to become sobs. Zell then rose to his knees and bucked Seifer off, turning around to face him. He wanted to be able to kiss Seifer and look into his eyes. He wrapped his arms around Seifer's shoulders, wrapping his legs around Seifer's thighs, gasping against the curve of Seifer's shoulder as he was impaled once more. One of his arms wrapped around Seifer's waist, fingers pulling at his sweaty flesh as he was pushed up against the wall and the headboard, the other hand curling into Seifer's hair. Zell left wet, slobbery kisses all over Seifer's shoulder, neck and the side of his face.

He let out a long gasp when Seifer repeatedly moaned out his name. It was something rather small and silly, but it always drove Zell sexually crazy when Seifer said his name. For most of their relationship, it had been exceedingly rare for Seifer to call him 'Zell', rather than Chicken-Wuss, or some insult to do with his height. Even now, Seifer often called him Dincht rather than by his given name. Seifer did often say his name in the height of lovemaking, but this time, it just meant so much more to Zell. Their lips finally came together as they banged against the wall with each thrust. Zell was pretty sure he was crying by now. How could he not be with the way he was feeling? How could he not be when he felt so fragile, like his life could vanish at the blink of an eye, when he felt so mortal? How could he not be crying when he had this strong, smart, beautiful man who wanted him and loved him, wrapped all around him and so deep inside him?

Seifer and Zell's mouths broke apart as Zell's head lolled back against the wall. Seifer bit into Zell's shoulder when Zell's inner muscles gripped his penis tightly. Zell was panting loudly, his eyes rolled up into the back of his head, muttering things that he probably didn't even realize he was saying. He kept whispering Seifer's name, and saying things like 'fuck me', and begging Seifer to do it harder. "Harder," Zell demanded again. Seifer knew that he was causing Zell a little bit of pain, because he was already fucking him pretty violently. He knew that Zell would have a hard time walking the next morning, and that he was more than likely going to have bruises, but he did it harder, for he was feeling all the same sort of desperate feelings that Zell was. He and Squall had this connecting relationship for so long, like they were sides of the same coin, a shadow of each other. He and Squall hadn't been the best of friends, but there had been deep respect there, and deep friendship in an unconventional way, and it hurt him now that Squall was gone. It made his own mortality seem so much greater. It made him feel all the more alive in moments like this, moments where his body was on fire with lust and love for Zell, when his heart felt too weak to be able to make him function, where all he could think about was how much he loved this man. When Zell came, his whole body went liquid in Seifer's arms, and he was gasping for air like he was drowning. Zell's rectal muscles constricted and relaxed around his erection, feeling so strong and good as he kept thrusting deep into Zell's body. When he came, Zell was still gasping for air, still moaning incoherently for Seifer to fuck his brains out.

Zell was sandwiched between Seifer and the wall, and slid down when Seifer's body lagged, tapped of energy. They both collapsed, Zell winding up on top of Seifer, their limbs akimbo and tangled together. They both panted and tried to catch their breath for a long time, the sheets sticking to their sweaty skin. After a while, Zell sat up, looking down into Seifer's face, which was shining with sweat and looking serene with a calm expression. They were both a mess, not from just the sweat, but also the semen that was splattered on them. Zell slowly stroked Seifer's hair off his forehead and then kissed the tip of his nose, then his lips for a brief moment. When Seifer smiled at him, his peridot eyes soft, Zell felt tears pricking at his eyes, and laughed as he wiped them away, sniffling.

Seifer reached up and wiped away a couple of tears that Zell had missed. "We're not goin' anywhere, Dincht."

Zell lay back down next to Seifer, holding him as tight as he could. It took Seifer's breath away, but he didn't mind. It made him feel anchored and alive. They were both exhausted, but neither fell asleep. They both wanted to stay awake and revel in the moment, their fingers trailing over each other's skin, feeling each other's heartbeats. They didn't say 'I love you' to each other, because it was more than evident how they felt for each other in the way they touched. They both knew that they could die anytime, but didn't think about it at all then. They were too busy treasuring how it felt to be alive and twined together to worry about when or how they'd die. It was a relationship that had started out with such animosity, with a gradual and almost mysterious build to friendship, and then to love. Some people who knew them and their past together would have looked at the pair and wouldn't have given them even a month, or only given them until the lust wore off. But, it had lasted, and it would last, and only death could tear them apart.

Squall was sitting at a long, ornate table, eating a rather nice meal of steak and fresh vegetables, eyes wandering like a curious child to all the surroundings that were quite fascinating to him, but commonplace to Etanin, who sat beside Squall.

"You're learning quite quickly," the King commented as Squall put a carrot piece in his mouth, eyes staring at the weapons on the wall, swords and knives and axes, and a single antique-looking revolver. "I'm impressed. But, you seem to be a fast learner."

"It... almost seems natural," Squall murmured.

"It's because it is natural. If you had the ability to see in future, you would have realized what you truly were as a man. That you were special."

"Doesn't Diablos have that ability?" Squall asked.

Etanin gave a quick roll of his dark eyes. "I do not believe in clairvoyance, and he very well knows that."

When he'd seen Bahamut in human form when he'd been human himself, Squall would not have been able to guess his age in the slightest. He'd looked timeless and ageless and so very magical. Now maybe he was seeing the King through his own magical eyes, or maybe it was just because he was up close to him, but Squall could actually see wrinkles at the corners of Etanin's eyes. "Can I ask you something personal?"

"You sure can," Etanin responded, popping an ear of baby corn into his mouth. "Whether I'll answer is another matter entirely."

"How old are you? I mean... how old were you when you died?"

Etanin cocked his head, giving a small smile. "Hmmm, I didn't expect that to be your question. I was 42."

"How old were the others?"

"You'd have to ask them, for I know not."

"You don't know the age of any of the others?" Squall asked. "But, why?"

"It never came up, and... it's not something we actually care about, especially because we're so old anyway. I, of course, know Thuban's age. I also know Manannan and...."

"And, Diablos."

"Yes," Etanin answered tersely. "Thuban was 20, Manannan was 13, and Daeva was 32. And, I also know your age, obviously."

Squall had the feeling he'd made Bahamut angry by mentioning Diablos's name again, so he started to look around the large dining room again. He polished off his plate, and stood up. There was something in the room beyond this that was catching Squall's attention. He went in and found it was a very posh and grand, yet cozy and comfortable, sitting room. It looked like it was still alive itself, as if this is what it had really looked like while Bahamut had been human. Though, it also looked like it had evolved along with the King. There were some modern touches creeping into it, as if he'd recreated things along the ages that had caught his fancy or interested him. It also looked like it was a well-used room, and there were many interesting portraits on the wall, including Thuban, a woman with pale hair and dark, dark eyes, some children - one of them appearing to be a young Etanin Alwaid, a good-looking man in elegant clothing, and one of Daeva.

What had caught Squall's attention was a shelf with some very interesting clocks. They all had different times on them, and some worked in very fascinating ways. One made a very strange sort of ticking noise. There was also an hourglass filled with red sands, and even a digital clock with the time and date on it. "Why so many clocks?"

"I liked to study time as a child, and even a little as a man. I had no magical abilities, but it was something that I still enjoyed. Each tells a different time. This one is stopped at the time of my death, and this one counts the time since the Court began. This one tells time as if it were still measured by the calendar of my kingdom, this tells the time from the moon's phases, and these are modern ones."

Squall looked at one of the digital ones, and boggled at the date and time. "Are these accurate?"


"They can't be."

"Why can't they be?"

"Because.... This says it's February 15th, year 5840. That can't be."

"Why not?" Etanin asked patiently. He noticed that Squall's fingers were starting to elongate and grow long claws in his distress.

"Because.... Because...." Squall shook his head. "It was just 5816. That clock can't be right. It hasn't been 24 years since I died."

"But, it is. Time moves differently for us than it does for humans."

Squall started panting, sliding down to the exquisitely carpeted floor. "But... Ocean.... My, this.... Fuck!" He cursed angrily, balling his hands into fists. He pressed them into his eyes to hold back the tears. "Are they even still alive?!" He stood up. "Is my daughter even still alive? What about Laguna?"

"That isn't part of your life anymore."

"Fuck you!" Squall shouted. Etanin had stood up when Squall did, and was shoved out of the way as Squall moved to leave.

"You can't see them," Etanin said calmly, though his already dark eyes had blackened further in anger.

Squall glared at his new King, and then they were transforming. Squall had started turning into Griever first, and Etanin had followed suit. Griever lunged to attack Bahamut, wanting to leave and see Ocean. What if Laguna was dead? Squall had never told his father how he'd felt about him.... Never. But, Bahamut was stopping him.

"Let me go see them," Griever growled lowly, slashing out at Bahamut with long claws. He was then airborne, howling in pain when Bahamut's fangs tore into his neck. Bahamut's wings were wide, making him look very angry and very imposing.

"It may have only seemed like hours to you, but it has been 24 years for those who knew you. They've made their peace with your death. You want to reopen all those wounds, only to see them die? They WILL die, Griever. They will get old and fade and vanish, and you will have to mourn them over and over. You will mourn them now, for they will look old and frail to you. You will mourn that you aren't there with them. And, there will be nothing you can do about it."

Griever whimpered as he tried to stand, but when he'd been flung back, one of Bahamut's clawed fingers had sliced at his leg, making it hard for him to stand. "I can bring Ocean here. Like you did with Thuban."

"It doesn't work that way," Bahamut pointed out. "It was just chance that made her like us, too. That doesn't mean it will happen to your child, as well." He folded his wings on his back. "Besides, we have something to attend to." Bahamut closed his black eyes, which had been bleeding to dangerous green, and Griever was able to stand once more, feeling a warmth from within him, completely healed. "Lady of Song, come to me."

After a few moments, there was a magical, musical sound in the air, and gold dust seemed to fall from nowhere, and then Siren was there in the sitting room with Griever and Bahamut. She looked at Griever with her opalesque eyes showing surprise. He just watched her back. He'd almost forgotten that there was an entire court outside him and Bahamut. She slowly nodded to him, and then looked to her King. "Yes, my Lord?"

"Gather the rest of the court here," he instructed. "We have a new member to introduce, after all."

She nodded and disappeared again.


"I strongly advise you to leave your human family alone. Don't doom yourself to having to watch them die, and them to having to see you remain the same. Now, I've prolonged this Court meeting because I wanted you to have a decent grip on your power, for at a gathering of all of us, it is quite a lot of magic all together in a relatively small area, and can be very trying in terms of maintaining control of yourself."

Griever just stayed silent, wanting to stare defiantly at Bahamut, but turning his gaze away, staring at the floor, but showing with his body language that he was displeased with Bahamut's suggestion. But, he was a little curious about what the other Summons would be like. He knew them from when he'd Junctioned them years and years ago during Time Compression, but it would be a little different seeing them through Griever's eyes. There were so many things that were curious and interesting to him in this new place, and while he found it all very interesting, he also found it a little disturbing. With all these things he was finding fascinating, he was starting to forget little things about his human life, and the realization that all these years had gone by made him so very sad about forgetting them even a little, because Ocean and Rinoa and Laguna were all still very much alive. Bahamut kept his dark eyes on Griever, watching him very carefully.

After a while, Squall started to feel the weight of power starting to push down on him. "If any of the Court come to visit you, you will feel them. It also helps you feel if there is an invader. Lots of the Court put of barriers around their own world, not wanting visitors or intruders. Not just from our Court, but from any sort of magical intruder."

"It kind of hurts..."

"Yes," Bahamut agreed. He turned into Etanin once more, and gestured for Griever to do the same. "I like to have everyone in their weaker, human form during meetings. It prevents that feeling of pain and illness, and also keeps egos in check. At least a little better."

"Does it hurt whenever you visit another's world...?" Squall asked.

"I am King. My power is what holds this Court together. My power helps keep all the Court members' powers alive. My power even helps make your worlds, at least a little. So, no... it is different for me, and for the Messengers."


"Siren and Diablos." Etanin gestured for Squall to follow him down a long, wide hallway. "They were both magical creatures before becoming like this, so they have very strong magical defence, which helps them come and go as they please to deliver messages and run errands."

"Diablos is a faerie.... So, Siren is too?"

"Yes. Well, not fully. By the time Aria was born, faerie blood was very diluted by human blood, so she's only one-eighth fey, or less. Daeva is fully half."

Squall pursed his lips when he saw figures milling around the large dining room. Some were sitting at the table talking amongst themselves, but when Squall and Etanin walked in, they all turned their heads and stared. They bowed their heads to their King, their eyes only for Squall. He felt very uncomfortable, his anti-social tendencies remaining even in this new life. Squall stuck pretty close to Etanin, watching each Summon very carefully, putting faces to their powers. He didn't do much talking as Etanin addressed them all after they'd all seated themselves at the long, elegant table. He watched Etanin as he spoke, noticing the three empty seats. A seat directly at Etanin's right side, for Diablos. A seat beside Shiva, in her Parminder form, for Alexander, and a seat at Etanin's Leviathan's left that was always empty. Tiamat's chair. Squall was sure that Diablos and Tiamat weren't something that Etanin wouldn't want to talk about, but Squall was curious all the same.

Squall's mind wandered away, thinking of various different things, much like his mind always had wandered during Garden meetings. Before he really knew it, Summons were starting to leave. He could see some of them were hanging around, trying to catch his gaze. Manannan mac Lir, with all the boldness of a child, came right over and sat on the table, feet kicking innocently by Squall's right elbow.

"How's it going?" He asked. Squall's eyes looked for Etanin, but the King was speaking with Shiva and a big black man that Squall found out was Doomtrain.

Squall just gave a shrug. "Whatever."

"Etanin can be a bit... prickly..." Manannan smiled in a very charming way that made Squall's heart constrict. It reminded him of Ocean. "But, he does know what he's talking about, and he's taken quite the shine to you."

"Hmmm....?" Squall raised an eyebrow, not looking at Manannan, rather at a woman in a wheelchair who looked like she had cerebral palsy. Eden.

"He likes you quite a bit."

Squall's scarred brow then furrowed, his eyes looking to the silver-haired child beside him. "Likes me?"

Manannan laughed loudly, leaning forward. Squall's nostrils were filled with the smell of sea-water. "Not like that. Though... you are his type."

"What's that...? His type...?" Squall asked a little nervously.

"A strong-willed man with a soft, pretty mouth and a body that's so very masculine. I'm sure he loves that about you. Or, he would if he weren't so hooked on Daeva."

Squall pursed his lips, feeling a little relief. "Oh."

"He likes you in the sense that you were a good Master to us, that you didn't use our powers for your own gain. You used them for a noble cause. He finds that admirable. And... you bring out paternal feelings in him."

That comment made Squall think of Ocean again, and of Laguna. Was Laguna still even alive?

"I seem to have upset you..." Manannan trailed off.

"No. I'm just overwhelmed."

"That can happen." Manannan then vaulted himself off the table. "Like everything, it just takes time. Good thing you have lots of it." Leviathan's human form went over to Etanin, stood on his tiptoes and whispered something in his King's ear, then vanished.

"How did your control feel?" Etanin asked after they were all alone.

"Fine," Squall muttered distractedly.

"You're obviously deep in thought. Is it anything I can help you with?" Etanin sat at the head of the long table, putting his feet up on the surface.

"I'm just thinking of something Seifer told me. About you."

"About me?" The King asked, intrigued. "What did he say about me?"

"Nothing. It's something that Tiamat told him about you."

Etanin's dark eyes narrowed, and when he replied, his voice had cooled considerably. "I can only imagine what she said about me."

"She said that you were an awful tyrant who murdered her mother and sisters, and hated her simply because she was a woman." Squall slowly cocked his head. "But... you don't seem horrible at all."

Etanin pursed his lips, staring at Squall for a long time. "Thuban likes to base her opinion of me on things that aren't fact, and I'll say no more on that issue."

"When are Diablos and Alexander coming back?"

"That is also a subject I do not wish to discuss." He took his feet off the table and glared at Squall. "And, you keep bringing that subject up to me, even though I keep asking you not to."

"Because it's the essence of this existence."

Squall's comment confused Etanin. "Meaning... what, exactly?"

"There has to be something more than power," Squall stated, brushing his bangs out of his eyes. "Your feelings about Tiamat and Diablos tell me more about what this world is like than all the spell-casting ever could. That there's still something very human here."

Etanin was silent, but his face gradually softened. He was always exceedingly handsome, but when his face showed this kind of expression of softness, he really did look beautiful. "That's very perceptive of you."

"Just because I don't talk much doesn't mean I don't see things." He stood from the table. "I'm tired."

Etanin just nodded, watching carefully as Squall disappeared, feeling through the network of his power that the newest member of the Court had indeed made it back safely to his own power-base. He sat at the table alone, thinking of what Squall said to him. Not only about his relationship with Daeva being very telling, but also about Thuban. His feelings about Thuban definitely were more complex than her being a woman instead of a male heir. He didn't want to think about his daughter, and her misguided ideas about him, and about what happened with Mira, her mother. He went back into his sitting room, flopping in his favourite chair, his eyes seeming to focus on the portrait of Daeva hanging on the wall, even though he didn't want to. He did miss Daeva. Terribly. But, he also knew it wasn't time to bring he and Alexander back. He turned into his true form, curling up for rest, which came quickly to him.

Squall slept for a long while, then decided to take a walk around Garden. There were even students wandering around, though none of their faces were recognizable to him, and they all seemed vaguely similar. But, it really almost seemed like home, like it was the real Garden. He noticed that if he concentrated on a certain face for a while, it would change. He saw one girl, and started thinking of all the people he'd left behind, that were still existing in a world that seemed so close and yet too far away for him. As he thought, he thought of the time he'd given Selphie a tour of Garden, and this girl he'd been staring at started to resemble the sprightly brunette.

He sighed and went back up the elevator to his office.... Or, an illusion of his office. He didn't know how to think of it. His Garden would exist long after the real Garden had turned to dust. There was something very sad about that. He sat behind his desk, noting that there was even paperwork for him to do in his in-box. His mind started to wander again, and when he concentrated enough on a single person, it was if he could feel them. Could he know how Rinoa, Ocean and the others were doing just by thinking of them? He thought of Ocean and felt a warmth tugging at him. He thought of Rinoa, and felt that same warmth, though the feeling was much dimmer with her. Did this mean because she was old? He thought of Laguna and couldn't feel anything. He thought of Edea and couldn't feel anything. He thought of Seifer for a while, feeling warmth. But, it was ebbing away. Then, he couldn't feel it anymore. When he thought of Zell, he felt a pain in his chest. What did this mean?

Squall started pacing around his office, his mind racing. In his emotional looseness, he'd transformed to Griever. What did it mean that he felt pain when he thought of Zell? Bahamut had warned him not to get involved with the people from his life. But, Bahamut had also taught him concealment spells. Perhaps he could just take a quick look-see. He concentrated on what Zell's face had looked like, the colour of his eyes, and the sound of his voice. He didn't find himself at Seifer's house. He found himself in Timber, he knew this much. He also knew he was at a funeral. Was this why Zell was in pain? Had he died...?

Squall wasn't sure what year it was, but he knew it had been a while, because Zell looked much older. He had grey hair that was shorn very short. He had wrinkles, and looked like he hadn't slept in days. Nobody could see Squall, who was now back in his human form, and one woman even walked right through him. Squall's breath caught in his throat when he saw the woman who was sitting beside Zell. It was Ocean. Hyne, she was a woman now. And, she looked very much like Squall himself. She was holding Zell's hand with one of her own, dabbing her eyes with a silk handkerchief with the other. Squall's eyes went to the casket, and saw Seifer laying inside. Seifer... he was also much older, but like Zell, wasn't wizened and frail. He still looked like he could sit up at any minute.

Squall looked down at Seifer's face, which looked merely like he was having a peaceful sleep. So... he died..... Squall knew exactly what Etanin had been talking about. He felt horrible. It wasn't just the mourning of someone he'd known for his entire life. It was because he was still the same. He realized in this moment that he would see Rinoa's death, Ocean's death, Zell's death, Quistis and Selphie and Laguna and Edea and Sis, and everyone he ever knew. He gripped the edge of Seifer's casket, his eyes slamming shut under his emotions. When the service started, Squall stood off to the side, for there was no room to sit. Squall's eyes searched the crowd. He didn't see Rinoa, and he didn't see Laguna or Edea. There was a very old man sitting near Zell, and Squall recognized it as Cid, though he was on his last legs. The words about Seifer's life sounded far-away to Squall. He was only really concentrating on Zell's face, and how dead and haunted he looked. Squall could feel somehow that Zell was dying, too. The only thing that snapped his concentration away from his former best friend was the sight of someone lurking in the doorway to the room where the funeral was being held. They were just standing in the doorway, partially in the shadows of a large plant in the corner. They had no interest in coming in, but were just watching curiously. Daeva.

Squall wondered if Diablos's human form could see him. Even though Zell, Seifer and Ocean had all aged, Daeva had not. True, he'd been existing for all this human time, but he had not aged. Squall went towards Daeva's position, not sure if he was going to even say anything to the other Summon, but as he got closer, he felt a revolt in his powers. It almost crippled him, and made him halt any movement. Etanin appeared before him, and nobody in the room paid any mind, for they couldn't see him either.

"Don't you dare approach him."

Squall panted, looking up into his King's eyes.

"What are you even doing here?"

"I.... Had to see...." Squall gasped out. Bahamut's power was like a tank being dropped on him. "They don't... know I'm here...."

"I never mentioned this to you before, but I will mention it now. I forbid you to speak to Daeva. I forbid you to speak to Alexander. I forbid you to visit them, to let them feel any thread of your power, or to even see you. Banishment is banishment, Griever."

"If he has no powers, how would he feel me?" Squall asked, Etanin pulling back some of his power, making Squall able to speak properly at least.

"He would still know."

"What's he even doing here....?" Squall wondered to himself. He noticed that Etanin purposely did not look at Daeva. Maybe it was because the Lord of Dragons didn't want to? Maybe it would crumble his resolve?

"He would feel like Seifer Almasy was connected to him somehow, even if he couldn't remember him. For, Daeva and Alexander's human minds cannot possibly remember all that they have seen and existed for. It's just too much for a human brain to comprehend."

"You aren't looking at him."

Etanin glowered at Squall. "It hurts to see them die, doesn't it?" He asked cruelly. "I warned you, didn't I?"

Squall just crossed his arms and looked away. But, then he started at Etanin and shot back. "You know, why can't you just be together, and that be the end of it? Why can't you just be happy with him?" His eyes went to the coffin, wishing he'd been able to express the same sentiments to Seifer and Zell when it had really mattered.

"Hmph." Etanin vanished. It had hurt him to be so near to Daeva, so had purposely not even looked at him. He couldn't have stood it to stare into his blue and black eyes and just turn his back on Daeva again.

Squall looked around and saw that people were starting to leave. He followed at length behind Zell, who got in the backseat of a car with Ocean, and drove away. Ocean looked so pretty.... Squall put a hand to his mouth, sighing deeply. His little girl.... He walked down the sidewalk, still invisible, still feeling that pain in him when he thought of Zell. And, what happened to Laguna and Edea? Where was Rinoa? It was a long walk to Seifer's house from Timber, but Squall didn't find it lengthy at all. He didn't bother knocking on the front door, since it's not like Zell could see him, anyway.

When he found Zell, upstairs in his bedroom, Squall was quite sure that more time had passed than a few hours. Zell looked much skinnier than he had at Seifer's wake, and Squall could tell just from looking at him that this would probably be his last night alive.

"Squall....?" Zell's tired voice asked.

He started, only realizing just now that in his distress over Zell's sickly, emaciated appearance that he'd dropped his shields. He panted, staring at Zell in horror, wondering what he was going to do.

"I... I wondered if I'd see you... you know, one last time?"

Squall shook his head, completely perplexed.

"You look good. And, you don't have to say it to me, since I know I look like shit..." Zell trailed off into a fit of coughs. After they subsided, he looked up at Squall. "Seifer knew. After you died, we helped Rinoa...." He stopped, coughing some more. "We helped Rinoa sort out your stuff. He felt it when he touched your pendant. He felt that it was an icon item."

"He... he knew?"

"Not surprising, I guess."

Squall pursed his lips and sat on the edge of the bed. "Why didn't he... Junction me, then?"

Zell sighed. Squall could hear the breath rattling in Zell's lungs. "Because he didn't... want to," Zell answered. "He thought it would be a bad idea."

"How... how did he die....?"

Zell closed his eyes. "He died right here." It would have been typical for Seifer to die because he was being attacked by a monster during his item hunting trips. But, that wasn't the case at all. Seifer had survived against countless monsters, and died in his sleep because of a brain aneurysm. "I remember him kissing me goodnight, the same as he did every night..." Zell started coughing again, hardly able to breathe because of the violence of the hacks. "I fell asleep with his arms around me, and woke up wrapped in his dead body. I'd always said that I couldn't.... that I couldn't live without him. I guess it was true." Zell laughed bitterly, coughing again. "I only lasted a month."

Squall scooched across the bed, slowly reaching out and touching Zell's shoulder in a comforting gesture. His fingers hovered above Zell for a while, a little afraid to touch him. When he finally touched Zell, he could feel that Zell was dying of what had started as stomach cancer, and had spread to his lungs and kidneys.

"What's it like....?" Zell asked.

"Overwhelming," Squall answered after some thought. "What about... what about my dad?"

"Laguna...?" Zell started coughing again. He reached towards a glass of water that was on his nightstand. Squall got it for him, handing it to the dying man. "Thanks." Zell took a long drink. "He died about ten years ago. Heart attack. Edea died, too. The woman who inherited Edea's power, a Sorceress named Gruagach. She controls Esthar now."

"And... Rinoa....?"

"Died last year. Alcohol poisoning."

Squall furrowed his scarred brow. "Alcohol poisoning....?" This was strange to him, because Rinoa rarely drank.

"After you died, she became a lush. She was always drunk."

Squall frowned deeply, but could hardly stay mad at a dead woman as he was staring down into Zell's chalk-white face, with the black circles under his icy blue eyes. "I could feel... that you were dying. But, I didn't feel the others...."

"I've been sick for a long time." Zell started coughing again, this time bringing up blood.

Squall watched sadly. This was his best friend, and yet he felt so very detached from the whole thing. Because this isn't your world anymore, Squall. That's why.

"I thought that I'd....die first..." Zell started coughing again.

"How much longer....?"

Zell smiled sadly. "I won't live the night."

Squall reached out again, and stroked his hand over Zell's hair. "Then, why aren't you in a hospital?" He whispered.

"I don't want to die in a hospital. I want to die here.... At home. Where Seifer died. I mean... I don't have anyone left, Squall.... I'd be alone...." He coughed again, sounding so very tired. "I'd be alone there too, but at least here, I have my memories."

Squall moved across the mattress further, wrapping his arms around Zell's shoulders. "I'll stay with you." He rested his cheek on the top of Zell's head, feeling how skinny Zell was, how close to death he was. "Zell... I never told you this...." Squall sighed. He wanted to say so many things, but nothing would come out.

Zell laughed, though it sounded very rattled and unhealthy. "You don't have to say anything, Squall."

"No, I want to...."

"Nice to see you haven't changed." He coughed again, tasting blood in his mouth.

"I always wanted to tell you..." Squall closed his eyes sadly, feeling Zell's life ebbing away from him. And, yet... Zell felt ready to go. "That I'm happy for you. That I'm glad you were so happy with Seifer. I shouldn't have let my sense of duty to Garden blind me to what was right."

Zell put his arms around Squall's thin waist. "I never told you that I forgave you."

"Xu told me that I had to think about Garden, that I couldn't be blinded by our friendship... I should have seen through her."

"Don't worry about it," Zell murmured. "I'm sorry I was so angry with you for so long."

"You don't have anything to apologize over," Squall said. "You did what was right. You did what was right for the man you loved. I should have known that better than anyone. How many times did I break the rules for Rinoa?" He asked rhetorically.

"You know....?" Zell said after a while. "I think this is the first time you've ever hugged me like this. Maybe that's part of the reason I...." He stopped, coughing again. "Why I got so mad when I heard about you and Seifer hugging in the hospital that one time."

"That was a long time ago..."

"I know. But, this just made me think about it."

They were quiet for a long time. It felt only like a moment to Squall, but it had actually been hours. "Squall...?"


"I can feel your magic. How strong you are. What... what is your form?"

"Griever," Squall answered, biting his lip. It wasn't only himself he was going to have to fight thousands of years in the future. It was Zell too, and Rinoa, and Selphie, Irvine and Quistis too.

"I'm not surprised....." Zell laughed a little. "So, I guess I'll be seeing you again, huh? So... is Bahamut as horrible as Tiamat said?"

"No," Squall answered quietly, his voice strong with his sureness. Though he'd only been Griever for a short time, he already had such strong loyalty to his King.

Zell started a fit of coughs that sounded wet and painful. He had tears trickling down his cheeks afterwards. "I wonder if there's any sort of afterlife... for normal people, I mean?" Zell looked up at Squall. "Oh... sorry."

"It's okay. True, too. I'm not really normal anymore."

"Maybe I'll get to see Seifer again." Zell disentangled himself from Squall's embrace, which felt strong and so very magical, and lay back against the pillows, his face sweaty and looking grey. "Nobody thought we would ever last... but, we did. We lasted."

Squall also lay down, watching Zell, whose eyes were now closed. Zell's breath sounded struggled, and tears pooled in the corners of Squall's eyes, watching his friend painfully struggle for every breath. "Zell...?" Squall asked quietly. "I've only ever told three other people this, but... I love you." He'd only ever said those three words to Rinoa, Ocean and Ellone. He'd never even told his own father that, and now Laguna was gone, and Squall would never get the chance to tell him.

And, Zell was gone, too. Squall felt the energy leave his body, and he heard the rattle of Zell's last breath in his diseased lungs. Squall kissed Zell's forehead, and then stood up. He found his hands were shaking as he picked up the telephone and dialled 911. He left the phone off the hook beside the cradle, hearing the dispatcher on the other end. Squall walked out of the bedroom that Zell and Seifer had shared, pain constricting his heart as he had to walk by pictures of Seifer and Zell hanging on the walls, progressing from somewhat recent to back when they were young. He nearly lost his footing and fell down the rest of the steps when he saw Etanin standing at the foot of the stairwell.

"You couldn't leave well enough alone, hmm?"

"I had to see him." Squall finished walking down the stairs, wiping the tears off his cheeks. "And, I'm glad I came."

"You don't seem glad."

"I'm not glad he's dead, but I'm glad that I saw him one last time. I got to tell him things I should have said a long time ago."

The Lord of Dragons cocked his head far to the side, a thoughtful look on his face. He'd been Bahamut for so long that true human emotion seemed almost alien to him. It would feel the same to Squall when he'd been Griever for thousands and thousands of years. The emotions that they felt were memories of real emotions, not as concentrated, not as genuine as real emotions. They of course felt happiness and sadness and love and anger, but it just wasn't the same.

"He was in so much pain..." Squall trailed off, looking at a picture of Seifer and Zell that must have been taken not long after they started dating. "But, he didn't complain. And... he wasn't afraid of me, even though he knew what I am." His lips quivered. "I was such a bastard to him, but he didn't care. He was just happy to see me." A tear slid down the side of his face, and Squall made a displeased noise that he was crying in front of Bahamut. He probably seemed so weak and foolish, sure he was a disappointment. After all, creatures this powerful didn't cry.

Etanin reached out and touched the side of Squall's pretty face, then collected him in a hug. The last time he'd shared a hug with anyone was when he'd said his goodbye to Daeva. The two were very different embraces, thought brought up the same feelings in Etanin. The same feeling of hating to hear either Daeva or Squall cry. Hugging Squall made Etanin think of Thuban, for this was a rather paternal embrace. He felt fatherly things for Squall, and it touched the emptiness in him that were his fatherly emotions towards his estranged daughter. Squall's words though made him think of Daeva. Squall's comments about getting to say things he'd never got to say made Etanin think of all the things he'd never said to Daeva in the millions of years the Dark Messenger had been his companion. Because he was King, there was always something to attend to, and to divert his attentions, but in moments like this, he really noticed Daeva's absence, and how much Etanin missed him.

Squall held Etanin back tightly, really feeling home when he was near Bahamut's power, which was in turn the Court's power. "Come now," Etanin said quietly. "We should leave before anyone comes."

Squall nodded, and found himself in his bedroom in the Balamb Town apartment he, Rinoa and Ocean had lived in. But, there were some changes. It almost looked like a cross between the bedroom, and his dorm room in Garden when he'd been a teenager. Squall sat down in a comfy armchair in the corner, holding his head in his hands. "You must think I'm pathetic..." He trailed off into his hands.

"Why would I think that?" Etanin asked quietly. "We all cry at times."

"Even you?" Squall asked bitterly, wiping his face again and running shaking fingers through his light brown hair.

"Even me."

Squall frowned, because he hadn't expected Etanin to answer. "You probably don't want me to ask what about."

"That would be correct, though I'm sure you've made some guesses."

"I can't believe they're all gone." He stood up. "I'm tired again."

"We spend much of our time sleeping. Because you were in their world, you were using power without really even knowing it." He crossed his arms. "Do you wish to be alone now?"

Squall nodded slowly, wondering if he should say some sort of thanks to Etanin for comforting him. But, the King left as Squall was still contemplating it. He collapsed on the bed, thinking about the colour of Zell's eyes and the smell of Rinoa's perfume. He'd never got to say goodbye to his wife. And, he never would be able to say goodbye to Ocean. He knew that when he woke up, she'd be long dead. And, even thinking this, he crawled gladly into bed, mourning not only Zell and Ocean's future death, but the death of any people he'd known as Squall Leonhart.

2500 years later, things had changed dramatically in the human world, but it was all the same in the Summon Court. Squall was still learning the nuances of his new existence, but had already learned so much, and was already excessively powerful. Now, he was preparing himself for Time Compression, which would happen soon. In the human world, Esthar was on the downward spiral of a new Sorceress War. The children's children's children many times over of Gruagach, the Sorceress that had inherited Edea's power, were replaying the horror's of Adel's tyranny, though nobody who lived now really remembered Adel, and only librarians knew her name from mouldy old tomes of history. The great city of Esthar was falling, and falling hard. Squall kept an eye on the situation without getting involved. After all, Esthar was close to his heart. It was his father's city.

Etanin cared little for the fall of Esthar. He had a task that he'd known was coming since Time Compression had happened when Squall and his friends had been children. The death of his daughter, and the eradication of Tiamat as a member of the Court. He still freshly had in his mind when Squall had been there when his friend had died, and now he himself was walking to Thuban's bedchambers, so familiar to him, because her world showed the same castle as what was recreated in his own world. The bedchambers where he'd found his daughter dying and sexually violated by Tarsem-Sepra's invaders. Tarsem-Sempra had been the grandfather of Daeva's former king, Ronouve-Sempra. In fact, Ronouve's Kingdom had been built out of the ruins of Etanin's lands. When he came into Thuban's bedroom, she was sitting among velvet and satin cushions, staring out a large window that overlooked the green farming valleys that had been the backbone of the Genoa Highlands economy. She was in her human form, her dragon form of Tiamat already separating from her power base, becoming something entirely different.

"I'm surprised you actually came."

Thuban turned to look over her shoulder. With her motion, it was like she'd been made of cellophane for a moment. She'd become translucent, see-through. She was more vanishing than dying. She wouldn't die until Squall killed her dragon body in Ultimecia's castle, but what made her Thuban Alwaid would die today. "Why should you be surprised?" He asked. "You're my only child."

"You know that's not true. I had two sisters!" She looked out the window again, becoming translucent again, the sun filtering through the ghost of her body. "But, you never think about them, do you?"

"I can't believe you still hold onto lies about me, Thuban."

"You saw they were girls, and you drowned them before they could even be named!"

"They were stillborn, Thuban. You never cared to hear that. You believed that I murdered them because you believe I was a monster."

"You are a monster," she muttered. "You murdered Mother. And, don't lie, because I saw it."

"You saw me mercifully end Mira's life. She was sick, and in terrible pain."

Thuban just shook her head.

"She didn't want to tell you because you were so young."

"I saw you slit her throat!" Thuban stood up, nearly disappearing right then. "So, don't you fucking lie to me."

"It is not in my nature to lie," Etanin said smoothly, not reacting to Thuban's anger. "Your mother asked me to end her life, because she was in unbearable pain, and it was the hardest thing I'd ever had to do. You must remember how she looked the months before it happened? How skinny and pale she was?"

"You always hated her. Just because she was a woman. Just like you always hated me."

"I loved your mother."

"Loved her enough to fuck any pretty-boy that came along?"

"Your mother understood what the culture was like. I didn't love your mother as I loved Asterope, or love Daeva, but I loved her all the same." Asterope was the name of the companion that Etanin had in his human life. He'd had a few men, but Asterope was always his favourite. "I lost my best friend that day."

"I don't believe you. How can I believe the word of a murderer?"

"I don't want my last moments with you to be like this, Thuban!" Etanin exclaimed, exasperated. "You're my daughter, and I love you."

Thuban's angry expression slowly softened, and she looked at her father in wonder. "You...? You love me?" She then looked angry again. "I've wanted you to say that to me my entire life, and you say it now, when I'm about to die?"

"There's a lot of things I should have said to you."

"Then, why didn't you?" She asked, sitting back down among her cushions. Now, even when she wasn't moving, Etanin could see the sunlight starting to filter through her.

"Stubbornness, a fear of my feelings. Anger at your accusations about Mira." He crouched beside her.

"Why are you saying it now?"

"I've had some time to think."

"Squall Leonhart must be having an effect on you," she murmured. "He was still very human when his friend died." She looked out the window again. "His friend's companion, Seifer Almasy, was the best Master I ever had. I mourned him." She looked to her father once more. "You treat Griever the way I wish you'd treated me. Like a father." She picked up a cushion and put it in her lap. "I think you also are very lonely now that Daeva's been gone. It's even been a long time for our kind. You miss him."

"I don't want to talk about that."

"If I say I believe you where Mother is concerned, why did you never try to set me straight?" Thuban asked, slowly vanishing before Etanin's eyes.

"I did try," Etanin snapped, anger starting to rise into his voice. He took a deep breath. "I did try," he repeated more gently. "You are as stubborn as I am, and wouldn't hear of it."

She didn't reply, probably because her father's words hit a little too close to home. "I can hear her talking to me," Thuban murmured after a while. "I knew this would happen, and I wanted to so blame you for it. I wanted to know that you shunning me is what was killing me, and would eventually destroy me. But... I cannot blame you. It's her."

Etanin frowned, knowing very well that 'her' meant Ultimecia.

"And, it could happen to your lion, too. Everyone is aware of what was going to transpire in Time Compression, because we already saw it. But, nobody knows what's going to happen afterwards. She junctions herself onto Griever. Perhaps he will not survive."

"He has not mentioned hearing Ultimecia speak to him."

"Ultimecia may be mortal, but she has a long life, her time mage abilities prolonging her existence longer than is natural. His term in the Court may be of short duration." She looked out the window, not saying anything else. Moment by moment, she became thinner and thinner, the window pane clear through her now. Etanin could not think of anything to say to her as she disappeared right before him.

"This conversation was actually... nice..." She mused. Though, her mouth didn't seem to move. She barely had a mouth anymore, and was more a ghost than any sort of concrete being. "Having a conversation like this with you." Thuban then vanished completely as she said "too bad it was too late, Father." What was left of her was floating in the rays of sunlight like dust, and it shimmered like gold. Etanin stuck his hand out, the gold dust passing through his fingers before it disappeared out of sight. He kneeled there for a while, the cushions still indented where Thuban had been sitting. He had his eyes closed, and when he opened them, he was in the same room, in Thuban's bedchamber, but it looked vastly different than it just had.

This wasn't the bedroom of Thuban's memory and of her creation. This was the bedchamber of Etanin's creation and of his memory. Thuban's world had disappeared, and he was back in his own realm. The sweet smell of vanilla flowers and exotic incense no longer hung in the air, and the comfortable cushions were far from pristine. They were covered in blood, as was the floor where he kneeled. The entire room was sprayed with blood, bodies of a few dead invaders on the floor, surrounding the large bloodstains. Most of the blood was Thuban's. This was the last place he'd seen his daughter, and the last real memory he had of her from her human life. Where she'd fought off her attackers as best she could, in true Alwaid fashion, though there had been too many for her. This is where Etanin had discovered her broken and raped body, and where his own swan song had begun. Where he'd fought off countless troops before facing Tarsem-Sempra himself.

Etanin got up and slowly walked around the room, looking at items that had belonged to Thuban. It made him realize that he hadn't known her at all. He hadn't let himself get to know her because of his pride, his temper, and his stubbornness. There were some old toys on a shelf that she'd had as a girl, as wel as some stuffed animals. There was one of a lion that made the Lord of Dragons think of Squall. Could what Thuban said be true? Could Squall have already begun to hear Ultimecia's voice? Could he die after the fight with his past self? The future beyond Time Compression was indeed unknown. Anything was possible. He walked out of the bloodstained room, the door closing and locking on its own behind him as he walked down the long, wide halls of his human castle. He meant to go speak with Griever, but he felt something tugging within him. A pain in the center of him, at the core of his power. It was a familiar feeling, because he'd felt it before. Time Compression was starting. He must have been kneeling before where Thuban had vanished longer than he thought. Etanin then became Bahamut, and he spread his power out to all the members of the Court, including Alexander and Daeva, trying to pay close attention to Squall, realizing for the first time since he'd become Bahamut, he'd run out of time.

Squall walked across a desolate field that was sure was normally green and alive. He wasn't sure where it was, but he knew why he was here. He could feel himself being pulled in two other directions, but he kept going in this one. One direction was from Ultimecia. He'd been playing Triple Triad with Manannan (something that much of the Court did to pass the endless time), and he'd felt a huge shudder go through him, and his power. It had actually toppled things off the shelves in his office where they'd been playing, and been like an earthquake of sorts. Leviathan had explained that it was Bahamut's power, since each of their realms was part their King's magic as well. It was his grief that Thuban had left the Court forever, and was now just a dragon. But, shortly after that, another tremor had moved through them, and this one Leviathan knew was because of Time Compression. Bahamut had sent his power out to protect all the members of the Court. They may have all been more powerful magically than Ultimecia, but even they could fall prey to compressed time. It felt almost like he was on a leash that was keeping track of him. It made Squall feel safe, especially because the other force that was pulling him was one that made him feel the exact opposite. Ultimecia.

Shortly after Bahamut had stringed the Court together with his power, Squall had started to hear whispers in his mind, and felt a gentle tugging at his heart. It was Ultimecia junctioning him. He knew that she would call him in battle, and then junction herself onto him, but Squall was ready. He'd had to be ready since he became Griever. His past self would defeat her, and Griever would defeat her again. He would come after her on both fronts. He would have to face her soon, but there was a task he wanted to complete. Ultimecia's Castle was far from here, on a dark beach lining an angry ocean. Squall stood on the shores, hands in the pockets of his long, black leather jacket, seeing why he'd come to this remote area.

"What are you doing here?" Seifer asked. He was laying in the sand, staring up at the stars, which were falling and shooting across the sky, reacting to the strange universe Ultimecia had created. "Aren't you supposed to be saving the day, being the hero?"

Squall didn't say anything. He crossed the gap between him and Seifer, sitting in the sand beside him. Seifer sat up, and Squall noticed he looked pretty beat-up.

Seifer studied Squall's face. This was a guy he knew really well, but he almost felt like he was looking at a stranger. "You look... different."

Squall just shrugged. After all, this wasn't the same Seifer that had found out what Squall really was simply by touching his Griever pendant. This was Seifer when he was 18, so Squall had to be careful about what he said and did. Though, at least in his favour, he knew that Seifer wouldn't be able to remember much of Time Compression. Squall knew because he hadn't been able to remember much of it himself. At least, his human mind hadn't been able to remember.

"No, really...." Seifer leaned forward, peering closely at Squall's profile. "You've got wrinkles!"

Squall cocked his head and looked at Seifer. Yes, it was true that he had crow's feet. After all, this was Seifer when he was 18, but Squall's human guise was that of his 36 year old self.

"Is this because of Time Compression?" Seifer asked, sighing deeply. "Hyne, I fucked everything up so badly." He rubbed his scarred forehead. "What have I done?"

"Don't think so highly of yourself," Squall muttered, letting some sand run through his fingers. "It was all Ultimecia. She wanted a puppet, and she needed a puppet, and she chose you. You couldn't have done anything to stop her. She's more powerful than you are."

Seifer snorted. "Way to make me feel better, Leonhart. You do have a knack for the sensitive emotional stuff."

"I'm not here to make you feel better," Squall pointed out. "I'm just stating a fact."

"You're not the same Squall."

"And, you're not the same Seifer you were... even hours ago."

Seifer pursed his lips, staring out to the ocean. "How are you ever going to defeat her?" Seifer asked. "You can't."

"We'll try. She has no defences against friendship and love..." Squall trailed off. He hadn't thought of Laguna's advice about how not to be destroyed in Time Compression since he'd actually said it 3000 years ago. Maybe Bahamut was thinking along the same lines to help protect his kingdom.

"You better not let Chicken-Wuss screw it up... that little fuck-up," Seifer muttered, but it was with a smile that bordered between amused and sad. He then frowned deeply. "I'm the fuck-up, though." He bowed, forehead pressed to his knees. "I guess Xu and Cid are right about me, huh? I can't do anything right."

"That's not what Cid thinks," Squall said quickly. "Not at all."

Seifer let out a sarcastic noise, muffled by his legs. "That old bastard wishes I was you."

"He doesn't," Squall whispered. He wished he could assure Seifer that Cid loved him dearly, but he couldn't tell him the truth. He couldn't change the past like that.

"Everyone wishes I was you," Seifer muttered bitterly. "Nobody would even care if I didn't come home, if I just stayed here on this fucking beach and waited for Ultimecia to finally kill me."

"You know Almasy, it isn't like you to give up. You're not alone.... you have someone waiting for you back home. The man of your dreams." Squall pursed his lips, knowing he'd slipped up. After all, this Seifer didn't know that Squall knew he was gay.

Seifer looked up from his knees. "What...?"

The 'rivals' stared at each other for a while, Squall realizing that Seifer saw that he wasn't all that he seemed, that he was Squall Leonhart, and yet he wasn't. Squall looked away, to a point in the horizon that no human eye could see, but Squall's magical eyes could see as Ultimecia's Castle. He was looking because she was calling him.

Griever, I kall you. I wish you to bring terror to these children.

Squall stood up, brushing sand off his butt and legs. He started walking back up the beach, walking to his fight with himself, with his friends and loved ones.

"Wait!" Seifer called, standing up. His grey trenchcoat was in tatters, and he took a step forward, hobbled by a leg injury. "How... how did you know?"

Squall looked over his shoulder. "You won't remember this, but... I'm sorry. For the tribunal, for not trusting you."

Seifer shook his head, looking utterly perplexed. He swore when Squall vanished right before him, wondering exactly what he'd meant about someone waiting for him, about the man of his dreams...

Squall appeared in Ultimecia's chamber, in a room that looked like her bedroom, rather than the throne room he'd seen her in. She was sitting in front of an elaborate looking vanity. Her gold eyes with their hourglass pupils looked at Squall's reflection in the mirror, her lavishly painted face showing her confusion. Squall had not bothered to hide his human form, wondering if Ultimecia had known that Squall Leonhart and Griever were one in the same. Judging from her reaction, she had not.

"You!" She exclaimed, though her voice was shaking a little.

"Well..." Squall examined his nails, being more sarcastic and easy than he thought he would have been able to while facing her. "Uhh, you did call me, didn't you?"


Squall just raised his eyebrows in response.

She shook her head, but then her shocked expression became one of dark glee. She clapped her hands. "Oh, I should have seen that you were more than just a regular human. That you would rise beyond your dirt roots of being a SeeD and grown into something far greater than mortal flesh kould imagine." She glided towards him, the smell of her perfume filtering into Squall's nostrils. It smelled dark, sensual and exotic. "Or, perhaps this is just a guise. Perhaps you are just trying to unnerve me."

"Perhaps," Squall murmured. "I know very well what you want me to do."

"I am your Mistress," Ultimecia hissed, her sulphuric eyes narrowing. "You must obey whatever I ask of you, is that not korrect?"

"You will ask me to fight the SeeD from the past, and defend you."

"Yesssss. I wish you to utterly destroy them, to kill them."

"You cannot ask me to kill anyone for you. But, I will not set out to murder."

She shrugged as if she didn't care, but Squall knew she didn't like this answer. "It matters not, dark Lion. You are far more powerful than those kursed SeeD. Even if you didn't mean to kill them, it would happen anyway."


Ultimecia grinned a serpentine smile. "You don't seem afraid of me, Griever. I am very powerful."

"As am I."

She bared straight white teeth, her gold eyes gleaming evilly. "Tiamat was also very powerful. Look what bekame of it."

Squall sneered at her. "You shouldn't be so confident."

"You shouldn't doubt how powerful I am. Look at what I've akkomplished." She spread her arms out, a smile on her face. "I've kompressed time itself. I've made all time into one, where I rule supreme, where I am Kween, where I am everything."

"The bigger they are, the harder they fall on their tattooed asses." Squall disappeared from her sight as she harrumphed.. "See you in battle, Ulty."

When Squall woke up, he was laying on the floor of his bathroom. He groggily sat up, the side of his face feeling sore from being pressed to the unforgiving tile of the bathroom floor. He ran his hands through his hair, wondering what the heck he was doing on the floor, anyway. He stood up, everything spinning. Something had just happened. That's right... he and Rinoa, and Zell, Quistis, Selphie and Irvine, had just fought Ultimecia. They'd just saved the world from Time Compression. But... wasn't he supposed to meet Rinoa in the flower field by Edea's orphanage, like they'd promised? He stumbled out of the bathroom, determined to find Rinoa. But... hadn't he got lost in Time Compression....? Or, had that been all a dream?

His surroundings were swimming, and when he came into his bedroom (the one in Balamb Town that he'd shared with Rinoa... was he still lost in Time? Or, had Ultimecia really won?), he stumbled and nearly fell to his knees. But, he was prevented by someone catching him before he could tumble.

"Drink this," a soothing voice commanded. Squall took a glass that was offered to him, rubbing his eyes. He focused his vision on the person who was sitting beside him on the bed. Etanin.

"Glad to see you're still with me, Griever. Drink up."

Squall did so, shaking his head.

"Confusion is natural, especially after Ultimecia tried to junction herself onto you."

Squall finished the rest of the drink, tasting that it was brandy. "I thought it was the past..." He muttered, panting.

"I'm quite impressed with you, Squall." Etanin looked sidelong at the youngest member of the Court. "How you survived Ultimecia Junctioning onto you. You're quite clever."

"I..." Squall rubbed his stomach, which was doing a million somersaults inside him. "I don't even remember it, really."

"You split your power in two. You junctioned your power onto the power I was using to hold you to our world."

Squall looked at Bahamut for a while, his face coming into clearer focus. He looked pleased, but tired. "It was hard to see myself. To see Rinoa."

"I imagine it was."

"It must have been hard for you, too. Using all that power. Feeling that my past self summoned you. That my past self summoned Diablos."

"It was an interesting experience, to say the least." Squall was sure there was more that Etanin wanted to say, but didn't press it.

"Tiamat's gone now..."


"Did you get to say goodbye to her?"

"I suppose yes....It wasn't the farewell I would have wanted, but it was a farewell."

Squall then realized something he probably should have noticed a while ago. It wasn't only that Bahamut was being a good King in checking to see if Squall was okay, but Squall filled some sort of hole in him that Thuban left behind. Etanin saw Squall in a son role, and saw himself as a father figure. Perhaps it was that Squall had once been Bahamut's master, but maybe it was also that Squall came at the right time, so to speak. The time where Thuban was beginning to die, and so near after Daeva had been exiled, at least in their time. "What now?"

"What now...?" Etanin repeated. "Now. Now... now, I need to rest."

Squall furrowed his brow as Etanin stood up. Squall also rose. "I have the feeling... it means more than that."

"Well, no one can accuse you of being a dummy."

"What are you going to do?"

Etanin didn't answer Squall's question, but instead said "there was concern that you wouldn't make it back from Time Compression alive. I'm glad to see that isn't the case."

"Are you going to bring Diablos back?" Squall didn't care in the least about Alexander, much like Bahamut himself. After all, Alexander was the one that had possessed Rinoa and used her and nearly killed her. True, Diablos had been the one that had tried so many times to kill Seifer and Zell, and even Squall himself by default, but he did care about Bahamut, and it was obvious that Bahamut missed Diablos terribly.

"I don't know."

It seemed significant to Squall that Bahamut admitted he didn't know something. Squall sighed, swaying a little.

"You should rest. It's not every day that you have to fight yourself, and split your power in half. You do realize that members of this Court thousands, even millions of years older than you, could not pull that off?"

Squall was the sort of man that rarely blushed, but he was pretty sure he was doing it now. Etanin vanished as Squall lay back on his bed. He transformed himself into his Griever form, the bed magically growing to accommodate his much larger frame. He thought of how young they'd been, of how pretty Rinoa had looked in that old blue duster with the angel wings on the back. He'd been so young, thinking that he was invincible, that he would live forever. They'd all thought that. And, Zell.... He'd looked so young, so healthy, so alive. There had been so much possibility there, and he'd fulfilled most of it. He'd become a hero of Garden, and hadn't even let being thrown out keep him down. He'd become a very successful martial arts instructor, known the world over. And, he'd found a man that loved him. 'The man of his dreams'. That was all that anyone could really hope for. Someone that they knew they would love until the day they stopped breathing. He'd thought that would be Rinoa for him, and while he had loved her all his adult life, the woman that made his heart beat had been his beautiful daughter. He felt lucky that he had missed her death, that she'd died without him seeing it. He wouldn't want that pain, the pain that he'd seen in Etanin's eyes. There was not only the pain of his daughter being lost to him forever now, but there was also the pain of having that person taken away from him that made his heart beat. Daeva was his Rinoa. Daeva was his Seifer, his Zell. Daeva was his Ocean. And, Griever knew that he would be coming face to face with Diablos and Alexander very soon.

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