The New Flesh

Chapter One

By Scarlet Fever

Squall rested his cheek on his forearms, sighing into the comforter. It smelled like a mixture between mothballs and a fresh, soapy smell. He was told to wait, and waiting is what he was going to do. He was in some no name Motel in Esthar, where nobody cared who he was, as long as they got their money. The room felt cold, even though outside was fairly warm. It wasn't shorts weather by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn't as cold as it could have been in November in Esthar. The fact that Squall was totally nude added to his chills.

Squall had received a phone call from 'Gietzen', which had instructed him to wait at the Salt Flats Motel, on the Salt Lake side of Esthar. And, those instructions would be clear. "Be waiting, and ready, totally naked and lubed up. I'll come at 4:15." Squall would have laughed if this was the time for him to have an out of body experience. He rested his chin on his hands, hoping that some chambermaid didn't decide to walk in, what with Squall laying nude on a bed, his ass up in the air and waiting for a John to fuck him raw.

The alarm on Squall's watch went, saying it was 4:15. He seemed to only be waiting a few seconds before he heard the door open. Squall wanted to look over his shoulder, but was told not to. Squall bowed his back, and pressed his face into the sheets, removing the temptation to look. The fact that Squall was well prepared for anal sex just raised his anticipation, especially when he began to hear the rustling of clothing behind him. Squall heard something metal clang together, and then heard shoes clunking to the ground. There was the sound of more cloth, then the bed dipped as weight came on it. Squall gasped as a loud slap filled the dingy motel room. Squall had added a couple of stipulations into the encounter with Gietzen. And, that very rough slap to Squall's ass had been one of them. Squall had to close his eyes, the stinging pain slowly working up his spine. Another slap caused Squall to cry out, his voice choked into the sheets. It had been a lot more painful than the first one, and didn't feel like a hand. It had been a paddle. Squall furrowed his brow in discomfort, but smiled, as well. This guy knew what Squall wanted.

Squall felt a hand move to his hip, and heard the sound of something tearing. The condom wrapper. Squall bowed his back further, trying to push his hips back against the impeding impalement, but the hand on his hip was strong, forceful. The other hand joined it, and Squall was rammed into before he really knew what was going on. He forced his loud moan into his forearms and the sheets, black spots passing over his vision. Squall was glad he'd prepped himself thoroughly, because Gietzen was really giving it to him. The echoing slapping sound of flesh was as loud as Squall's panted, laboured breathing. He rocked his hips back in time with the thrusts, biting his own wrists when that paddle came down hard onto his already tender ass cheeks again, and again. He felt one hand dig farther into his hip, as if trying to get right through Squall's skin. Squall could feel bruises forming. He moaned when the penetration hit him very deeply, as if hitting a part of Squall's body he didn't even know was there.

Squall moaned low and loud, his hands balling into tight fists, his short nails digging so deeply into his palms that he felt sticky blood oozing out of his fingers. When he moaned again, Squall felt the other hand move into his hair, and get a tight grip on some of it. Squall had the same hairstyle he'd always had, so there was plenty of hair to grip. The grip was rough enough that Squall had to raise his head in order not to have his hair ripped out. It caused Squall to raise his body on all fours, and his fists to uncurl. The man behind him pulled out of Squall's ass, then pushed in so hard that Squall had to bite back a scream of pleasure and pain, causing Squall to cut into the inner wall of his lower lip with his teeth. And, it caused blood to stain the sheets in smeared trails. Squall moaned low in his throat, a tear working out of the corners of his tightly closed eyes as the fucking reached a totally furious pace, the slapping of flesh against flesh loud in Squall's ears, the only thing he could hear. He gasped, gripping the now bloodied sheets in his fists when Squall felt Gietzen's teeth bite into the nape of his neck, so hard that he knew it drew blood. But, it was just where a shirt's collar would cover it. It made Squall think of the nature documentary he'd watched on Lions a few months ago.

Squall felt his tears fall onto the backs of his hands. They weren't tears of severe pain. Gietzen wasn't giving him anything he didn't want. And, there wasn't any permanent damage. The paddle hadn't broken any skin, and Squall didn't have any rectal bleeding. All the blood was his own doing. The thrusts became so powerful that Squall was being pushed forward on the mattress. Squall's legs began to feel like jelly, and he just wanted to scream in pleasure. A good hard fucking was what he needed. Squall had been concentrating on Garden duty, and had neglected his sexual life because he'd stayed in Balamb, helping Quistis with day to day duties. With Zell and Selphie gone, things had been in chaos for a while. Nida had also gone. He was still part of Garden, but was in Esthar, because of his sorcery. There was also an incoming problem of elections in Galbadia, which affected the Gardens, especially Galbadia. Squall pushed that out of his mind when the hand in his hair pushed Squall's face into the sheets, as if suffocating him. Squall turned his head so he could breathe, blood splattering out of his mouth, onto the sheets. The deep angle of Squall's back caused the thrusting to become so deep that Squall could only make animalistic noises of whimpering and groaning, not really sounding like himself at all. Although, most people thought he was frigid, so any sexual noises didn't really sound like Squall Leonhart.

Squall shivered when he felt Gietzen breathe in his ear. It was a totally gentle gesture, so opposite from the hand that so ruthlessly began spanking him that Squall cried out, his muscles beginning to seize. Then, a wave of looseness filled him, matching the weightless, useless feeling in his legs. He was glad for the bruising hand on his hip, because it was the only thing holding Squall up. Squall came already the already crimson stained sheets, his whole body shaking, feeling pleasantly used and sore. The hand on his hip tightened, and Squall heard the other man grunt as he reached orgasm, as well. Squall couldn't feel the release because of the condom, but could feel it when Gietzen's chest, lithe and muscular, pressed against his back. Squall could feel it in the heavy hammering of the other man's heart, could feel it in the feverishly hot skin, could feel in in the tingle of power that moved through the room, like a living being, a flood that was filling it. Squall quietly moaned, and collapsed, just as Gietzen pulled out of him.

Squall's whole body shivered, feeling cold as sweat dried on his skin. Squall panted harshly into the sheets, hearing the other man dispose of the condom. He started catching his breath, and felt the bed dip under Gietzen's weight once more. The hand that brushed the hair off Squall's face was ever so gentle, the total opposite of the fucking they'd just shared. Squall felt the power drain from the room, and the only tingling was left by the gentle touch of fingers against his face as he opened his stormy eyes.

"Did I hurt you?"

Squall looked into the other man's eyes, smiling. "No." Squall sighed, closing his eyes again, his whole body weary. He felt the other body stretch out beside him, moulding to his side. "It's been a while..."

"Only a couple months," Nida whispered, kissing Squall's temple. "That was our best role-playing yet."

Squall reached out to take Nida's hand, his palm bloody. "We didn't fall out of character once."

Nida took Squall's hand, and closed his almond-shaped eyes. Squall felt a whisper pass over his entire body, and any stiffness or soreness disappeared. It was Nida's powers moving over him, healing the cuts Squall had inadvertently made on his own body.

"You're getting better control," Squall whispered, rolling over on his side so he could look at Nida's face. It had been two months since he'd last seen his lover. Squall had gone to Balamb to help with Garden, and Nida has stayed in Esthar, to learn more control, and for his own personal reasons. Squall knew that Nida wanted to stay away from Garden for a little while, wanted to be in the City of the Sorceress while he learned about Xerampelinae's powers, now his own.

Nida sighed. "Ellone, Edea and your father have been a big help. With Odine gone, progress is a little slower, but I'm comfortable now."

Squall nodded, brushing a few ebony strands of Nida's hair out of his dark eyes. "It feels like you are. Nine months is plenty of time. Almost like you went through gestation." It had been just over nine months since the world that Squall had known had fallen out from under him. Nine months since Seifer and Zell had died by Squall's blade, nine months since Rinoa had lapsed into a coma. Nine months since Selphie had died, since Nida had taken on Xerampelinae's powers, since he'd become one with Iudicium, the Winged Goddess of Judgement. It was in fact a rebirth. Everything was getting back to normal, everyone was moving on.

"Speaking of...." Nida trailed off, running his fingers over Squall's hip. The curative magic Nida had passed over his lover's body had gotten rid of the bruises. "You'll have to see Fujin's baby. But, I'm sure Laguna has contacted you about it already."

Squall nodded. "Yeah, he did when the she was born, but I've been away from Garden, so haven't talked to him."

"Where were you?"

"The Galbadia Desert and the D-District Prison... Doing some Environmental Training with cadets. I was there for the second month. So, what did Raijin and Fujin name the little rug rat?"

"Almasy," Nida answered softly. "In memory of Seifer...."

Squall sighed, pursing his full lips. "I still find it hard to see Mrs. Dincht. I would have dinner with her every other night, though. She's lonely....." Squall noticed a dark look pass over Nida's face. "What is it?"

"Just thinking about my own parents. I haven't seen them since...."

"Since you changed?"

Nida nodded, gingerly kissing Squall. "I was hoping that you wouldn't mind stopping in Dollet on our vacation." The Asian man paused. "You still get a vacation, right?"

Squall nodded, stretching as he yawned. "Yep. Two months, starting tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Nida repeated. "Then why did you come to Esthar today?"

"I have some last minute Esthar/Balamb stuff to take care of, and have to talk to Laguna about the elections in Galbadia." Squall rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. He wrapped his arm around Nida as the other man spooned his side. "I can't wait to go to the Triple Triad Tournament in Timber."

"I think that's the only thing you really get excited about," Nida joked.

"That, and when you fuck me hard... Gietzen." Squall turned his head. "Why 'Gietzen'?"

Nida looked into Squall's eyes, feeling like he was lost in a calm sea. It gave him a warm feeling, and caused a gossamer layer of his powers to envelop them. "It was in a dream I had. Except that Gietzen was a woman."

"You were dreaming about women?" Squall asked, his voice deadpan, although he meant it as a joke.

"No, not like that...." Nida trailed his fingertips down Squall's belly, stopping just as he reached the soft down of Squall's auburn pubic hair. "It was more like a nightmare, actually. She was really.... Shadowy." Nida shook his head. "That doesn't matter. Anyway, Almasy's cute for a baby, even though I don't like children. She has Raijin's dark complexion, but Fujin's red eyes and bone structure."

"Has Rinoa woken up?" Squall asked suddenly, a stiffness moving through his body.

Nida shook his head. "Nope. She's basically the same she was when you left Esthar."

Squall nodded distantly, remaining silent.

"How are Quistis and Xu?" Nida asked, sitting up.

"They're both fine. Quistis needs to relax more."

Nida snorted. "This coming from you..." He gave Squall a saucy wink, then a gentle kiss. "Want to have dinner?"

"Can't...." Squall muttered, getting up. "I told Laguna I'd be in the city by 5:30. I gave us a little time, but it's already five." Squall made a motion with his hand. "Come on. We need a shower." Squall wrapped his arms around Nida when his lover stood beside him, pressing their nude flesh together. "Oh, you'll get a kick out of this..."

"What?" Nida asked, turning on the water as Squall's hands moved up and down his body.

"I've got my nickname back at Garden. I heard a few of the Junior Cadets calling me Squall Leonheartless."

Nida rolled his eyes. "You know why that is, don't you?"

The scarred man frowned. "Don't start, Nida." He put his hands on his slender hips. "Just because I'm not nice all the time doesn't mean I'm a bad person..."

"I didn't say that, Squall, so don't get so defensive," Nida said, testing the water with his hand. He gave Squall a look, then stepped under the water, his lover quickly joining him. After the Second Sorceress War, Squall had began to revert back to his cold personality. At first, Nida hadn't really noticed anything, because Squall was always warm and gentle with him, as well as fairly talkative, but then he began to notice that Nida seemed to be the only person Squall really treated that way. Well, Squall also seemed warmer with Laguna, but he'd began to distance himself away from people like Ellone, Edea, Irvine, Quistis and Xu.

"You don't think I treat you bad, do you?" Squall asked, pressing his cheek to Nida's throat.

"No...." Nida whispered truthfully. Squall treated him like gold, and Nida was very happy in their relationship. Nida couldn't really chide Squall, because he himself preferred the company of his lover, or solitude. Edea, Laguna and Ellone were helping him greatly, and he was becoming close with them, but something in Nida's powers made him prefer only Squall's company, or being alone. Maybe it was because he was a little afraid of what would happen, especially if he lost control of Iudicium. But, Nida wasn't as distant as Squall was. There was also something odd about the calming effect that Rinoa's comatose body had on Nida. Maybe it was her former connection to Xerampelinae, or the fact that she had taken Nida's empathy away from him. But, sometimes he would just sit in her room, and read, almost like she was a plant that gave off a soothing aroma.

Nida also began to think of his 'relationship' with Iudicium. It was hard to ignore her. Sometimes, he could hear her voice in his head. He'd gotten used to it, so didn't freak out every time he heard it now. He would have mental conversations with his GF, and had learned a lot about her duties, as well as her life as a Queen. It wasn't really right to call her a Guardian Force. She was more like a part of him, a part of his powers. Iudicium had been surprised at Nida's desire to know about her. Nida figured that past Mistresses like Ultimecia and Adel didn't really care, as long as they got Iudicium's powers. At first, Nida had tried to ignore her, feeling a bit like he was being possessed, but the dreams he had made him take notice of the winged Goddess. His dreams were of things he didn't understand. Iudicium said it was residual memory, from the past holders of her powers. It unnerved Nida that he would be having dreams about the life experiences of such horrible monsters as Adel and Ultimecia, but he couldn't really remember any of the dreams, and they were just jumbled images that he couldn't understand, which made Nida happy. He had enough nightmares of his own without adding to them.

"Hey...." Squall tapped Nida's chest with one soapy finger. "Where did you go?"

"Just thinking...." Nida trailed off. "Well, it's no big deal if you have to meet with your father. It will give me a chance to finish the book I'm reading, and check on Rinoa."

"Check on Rinoa...?" Squall asked distantly, a hot note creeping into his voice.

Nida noticed. "Don't get jealous or anything. She soothes me. I think it's because she took my empathy, and she used to have Xerampelinae's powers. I have some of her dreams."

"Dreams?" Squall echoed, shampooing his hair.

"Yeah. Iudicium connects me to all the past holders of her powers. Rinoa didn't have her for long, so I don't really get much. But, I get flashes of Julia Heartilly, singing that song Eyes On Me. I get images of General Caraway, with Rinoa when she was just a little girl, and of you...." Nida gave Squall a small smile. "My dreams about you are much more interesting, though."

Squall cocked an eyebrow, pulling Nida closer. "What are we doing?"

"Bad things," Nida whispered, his voice husky.

Squall laughed. "Oh! How's Vividarium?"

"He's good. He hasn't grown much. I think he's a runt." Nida gave Squall a small smile. "I think he misses you. I always find him sitting on your side of the bed."

"I have a side of the bed?" Squall asked.

"Well, it's whatever side I haven't been on." Nida kissed Squall, and threw all his emotions into it. Nida knew that he was in love with Squall, but they'd never said it to each other, and for some reason, Nida was afraid to. So, he just tried to show it when they touched, and kissed. "I missed you...." Nida whispered against Squall's wet mouth, wishing he could say 'I love you', but not finding the courage. And, Squall didn't seem willing to say it, and he didn't want to scare the auburn haired man away.

"Me, too....." Squall whispered, feeling warm and content. He never really considered Esthar to be his 'home', even though Laguna was there, and he spent a lot of time there, more so than at Garden. But, in Nida's arms, he really did feel like he was where he belonged.

"Squall, welcome back!" Laguna cried, immediately getting his son in a tight, octopus grip hug, which made Squall stand a little stiffly. He couldn't really hug back, because Laguna had effectively pinned Squall's arms to his sides. "You know that I would have picked you up from the Airstation..." Laguna looked over to Nida, who was watching them with a small smirk on his lips. "Oh, well, I guess you two wanted a little time alone, eh?" He gave Squall a wink and pulled away.

Squall smoothed out the front of his SeeD uniform. "Don't do that. You make me feel dirty."

Laguna laughed. "So, did you get your vacation?"

Squall nodded, falling in step beside Laguna and Nida. "Two months." He suddenly frowned. "I just want to get these meetings over..."

Laguna nodded, suddenly serious. "Well, there's an added meeting. Some officials from the Galbadian Army are here. We're going to have a bit of a briefing about the elections, and how it affects Garden and Esthar."

"Oh, fantastic..." Squall frowned, looking over at Nida.

Nida couldn't help but laugh at the miserable expression on Squall's face. He ran his hand down Squall's arm while the scarred man glowered at his father.

"This could be a very volatile situation, especially for our city," Laguna pointed out, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "What, with that new party...."

"New party?" Nida asked.

Squall nodded. "Yeah... I guess I should have mentioned it..." Squall turned his face away from Laguna, and gave Nida a small smile. His face turned serious. "There's a new party in Galbadia, running against Deling III. The Humans Rights against Sorcery party. They just call themselves the Human Party for short."

"Against... Sorcery...?" Nida asked hollowly.

Laguna nodded. "They just kind of came out of nowhere. I don't really think it's that big of a deal. They aren't a well known party, and Ms. Tsepeth doesn't have a well-known reputation."

"Ms. Tsepeth?" Nida asked, his worry not really dissuaded.

"Yeah," Squall answered, reaching for Nida's hand, giving it a squeeze before he crossed his arms over his chest. "Tevedes Tsepeth. She was a General or something in the Galbadian Army..."

"I was hoping Rinoa would wake up soon," Laguna said. "She might know something about Tevedes Tsepeth's role in the Army, from what she knew from General Caraway."

"Dr. Sunde doesn't really think that she'll wake up," Nida pointed out. "It's been a long time."

Laguna clapped his hands. "Well, anyway.... Let's not talk about such sombre things."

"We have to talk about sombre things," Squall muttered. "Look... Dad, can you give us a couple minutes?"

"Oop, say no more." Laguna gave them a wink and walked towards his office.

"Nida, this could take longer than I expected it to," Squall whispered, an apologetic tone entering his voice. "I'll come find you if we break or something. Where will you be?"

"Probably in Rinoa's room, or in my own." Nida frowned. "Don't get that look. Someone has to stay with her. I'm the only person who really pays attention to her."

Squall crossed his arms, but Nida could see the displeasure in his lover's stormy eyes. "You're not jealous, are you?" Nida asked.

Squall didn't say anything, but gave Nida a tender kiss, pushing his tongue past the Asian man's full, soft lips. "Thanks for this afternoon... Gietzen..." Squall winked, lightly smacking Nida's ass before he followed Laguna.

Nida did a bit of ogling as Squall walked away, then sighed deeply. A Humans Rights party? Against sorcery? Nida was human, too.... He rubbed his temple, feeling a bit of a headache coming on. Nida still couldn't control the pains in his head, or the fevers he would wake up with. Edea said it was from a build-up with power, and just releasing it in simple activities would help. Nida turned on his heel, and walked in the opposite direction that Squall had disappeared to.

"Okay, this Tevedes Tsepeth situation is more serious than I let on..." Laguna muttered. He, Kiros and Squall were sitting in his office. "I don't really want to talk about it, especially since this is the City of the Sorceress, and Edea, Nida and Ellone are all deeply affected by this, as well as Rinoa if she ever wakes up."

"What do you mean?" Squall asked, narrowing his eyes. "The Deling family have had their problems, but Deling III is a decent man, and the people love him. A zealot party that appeared out of nowhere doesn't have a chance, right?"

"Maybe not...." Kiros muttered, folding his hands in front of him. "But, propaganda is Tevedes's strongest suit. People are already kind of sore about Sorcery, especially what happened with Seifer and Zell...." Kiros trailed off, noticing Squall's face darkening. "Sorry."

Squall waved his hand. "Continue."

"Well, I don't want this leaving the room," Laguna warned. "But, I'm afraid for the safety of our city if Tevedes in convincing enough to even a few crazy people."

"You mean... Some sort of rebel army?" Squall asked. "Even a rebel army is no match for Garden, and the entire Esthar army. And, Edea and Nida are pretty powerful, so they can handle themselves."

"You've noticed Nida's power?" Laguna asked. "He's gotten a lot better with control." He winked. "Are you his Knight or something?"

"Nida doesn't need a Knight," Squall answered frostily. "Let's get back on topic."

"Well, I'm worried most because we don't know anything about Tevedes. I mean," Kiros struggled for words. "Where did she come from? I heard she was a General in the army, but we were in the army, and I've never heard of her."

"Was she some sort of Special Ops Officer?" Squall asked. "I know that they have a few secret agencies in the Galbadian Army, so she could have been in one of them.... How old is she?"

Kiros shrugged. "Thirty maybe?" He sighed. "It's hard to say. She gives me the creeps."

"You've met her?" Squall asked.

Both Kiros and Laguna shook their heads. "No... We've only seen pictures of her, but that's enough. Besides, in a recent speech in Deling City, she was blasting Esthar pretty badly, and basically said we were propping up a regime of genocide against true humanity by harbouring Sorcerers and Sorceresses, both of whom are 'notorious for destruction', end quote."

Squall frowned deeply. "Sounds like a lovely woman..."

Laguna shrugged. "Now, don't go getting that look..."

"What look?" Squall asked sharply, his voice cutting like an icy dagger.

"The one that you get when you think about Adel or Ultimecia... When you think about an enemy. Look, Tevedes Tsepeth won't become a problem. We just wanted to give you a heads up so you, Quistis and the Garden could put up road blocks against her smear campaign if she went after you, which is more than likely, because she also doesn't agree with drawing magic. It's natural medicine and potions all the way for her and her followers."

Squall nodded. "Your warning is duly noted. Now, can we get down to real business?"

"God, you're so cold..." Laguna trailed off. "I figured you would have learned a little warmth after all that's happened.."

"What I've learned is not your concern," Squall snapped.

Some of the warmth drained from Laguna's eyes, and he trained his son with a rare frosty glance. "You should get off your fucking high horse, kiddo. Or, it will be a long, lonely fall off." Laguna's aquatic eyes melted again. "Now, we may as well get started on that paperwork concerning the Garden recruitment centre in the city. Here's a file... It has some pictures of the facility that you can consider. I've already faxed a copy to Quistis. She okayed it, so you just need to take a gander at it. The zoning permits and all the paperwork are there, as well." Laguna handed the file to Squall, who gingerly took it.

Squall was sort of surprised. That had been the first time that Laguna had come close to yelling at him, or scolding him. Despite the fact that Squall didn't really want his father's opinion on his behaviour, it kind of felt good to have his father be stern with him. It was very parental. He opened the folder and looked at the information. Quistis wanted to set up a recruitment base in Esthar, because she thought that the Garden was lacking in the magic field, and Esthar was famous for its magic. There was also talk of setting up some sort of field office, since the three Gardens were sort of far away in case of an emergency. The Second Sorceress War had taught them a few things.

"So, when's Quistis planning another visit to Esthar?" Kiros asked.

Squall shrugged. "Well, things have calmed down a bit, and I got my vacation, so it's hard to say. Xu's really helping out, though. I'm glad Quistis is using her more. She didn't get enough recognition when Headmaster Cid was around."

Laguna and Kiros exchanged amused glances, like they were talking about their own children or something.

Squall rolled his eyes, drumming his fingers on the desk in front of him. "Grow up."

Laguna waved his hands in front of his face, as if to wipe the smirk off it. "Yes, back to business. I'm sure you want to get out of here so you can have alone time with Nida. You've been gone a while."

"Speaking of...." Kiros piped up. "Where were you. We tried to contact you a few times about Fujin's baby, but you weren't around."

Squall was appreciative of Kiros changing the subject. Squall wasn't the least embarrassed about his relationship with Nida, but he was embarrassed about talking about it with Laguna. "I was in the Galbadian desert, doing some Environmental Training. But, Nida told me that Raijin and Fujin named it Almasy."

"She's so adorable!" Laguna exclaimed, getting all misty eyed. "She has that new baby smell. She reminds me of pictures I saw of you as a baby." Laguna gave Squall a wistful gaze, while Squall felt like he was going to burn up from embarrassed flush.

"Please, Dad!" Squall waved the forms in his hand. "Can we please discuss business?"

Ellone gasped, looking up as she heard a flopping in front of her. The newspaper she'd been reading fluttered to the ground, and Irvine grinned, his body sprawled across the couch across from the large wingback chair Ellone was sitting in.

"I didn't hear you come in...." Ellone muttered, picking up the paper.

"I'm a master of quietly slithering into places..." He wiggled his eyebrows at her. "I'm starrrrvvvinnnnngggg. Let's go get food!"

"Can't you go by yourself?" Ellone asked, brushing some of her chin length brown hair out of her face. Irvine suddenly laughed, and the pretty brunette frowned at him. "What's so funny, Kinneas?"

Irvine took his cowboy hat off, and pointed to Ellone's cheek. "You smudged your face."

"Oh!" She laughed, and brushed at her cheek. "Did I get it?"

"No..." Irvine stuck his finger in his mouth, and trailed it over the pale black smear.

"Ew!" Ellone rubbed her cheek. "That was so gross!"

"Now you made it even worse!" Irvine slouched back on the couch, his black coat spilling around him.

Ellone grumbled under her breath, and got up to check her face in the mirror. Her and Irvine were sitting in the living room area of her quarters. As she looked at her reflection, she realized that she was hungry. It turned to playful annoyance when she saw that there was nothing on her face. "You rat bastard!"

"Hey, it was worth it." Irvine gave her a pitiful look. "Please, Elle... I'm so hungry. You've been neglecting me lately."

"Neglecting you?" Ellone echoed, folding the paper and putting it on the coffee table in front of her. "How, may I ask, have I been 'neglecting' you?"

"You pay more attention to Nida and all your Sorcery stuff than me!"

"And, you pay more attention to every woman than you do to me. So, we're even." Ellone stuck her tongue out at Irvine. "Why don't you just ask one of your many, many, many, many girlfriends to eat with you."

"You're such a perv, Elle!" Irvine winked, his periwinkle eyes dancing.

Ellone scoffed, giving him the finger. "I'm not the perv here. And, if I didn't know better, I would say you were jealous of the time I spend with Nida."

"Not me... I'm more worried about your safety."

"Safety?" The brunette looked at him like he had three eyes. "You're not drunk already, are you?"

Irvine made a face at her. "No.... What do you take me for? I mean that Squall's back in town, and he won't take kindly to you messing around with his girlfriend."

"How do you know that Squall's not the 'girlfriend'?" Ellone crossed her arms over her chest, waiting for an answer, a serious look plastered on her face, hiding her grin. It actually wouldn't have been so bad if Irvine was jealous of the time she spent with Nida Nomura. She and Irvine had been spending a lot more time together since the Second War. Ellone knew that Irvine just wanted someone he could joke with, to get over losing Selphie. But, Ellone couldn't ignore the feeling that she was getting recently when she was around Irvine. She liked him, and more than just the brotherly like she felt for someone like Nida, or Squall.

Irvine shrugged. "I don't... And, I think if I asked him about his sex life with Nida, he'd slit my throat."

Ellone suddenly became serious. "Yeah...." She frowned at Irvine. "I don't like how Squall's being so introverted again."

"What are you going to do?" Irvine asked, putting his feet up on the coffee table. "Squall's been through a lot.... Just let him deal with it how he wants to." Irvine shrugged. "Besides, if anyone was to complain, it would have to be Nida, and he seems happy."

Ellone sighed. "He does, doesn't he?" She smiled distantly. "He and Squall seem to be really right for each other...."

"Okay, okay..." Irvine smacked Ellone's thigh, picking up his hat. "Stop with your girlie daydreaming. Come on... I'm starving, and in the mood for sushi."

"Is that some sort of crude sexual innuendo?" Ellone asked, pulling on a deep brown wool coat. She used her familiar green shawl as a scarf. "Or, do you really want sushi?"

"Can't you hear my fucking stomach growling?" Irvine stuck his pelvis out. "Listen!"

"No!!" Ellone exclaimed, pushing him away. "I should arrest you for harassment."

"Get in line." Irvine winked at her. "Please, you contemptuous witch, can we go eat before I start eating you."

"Now, that was a sexual innuendo!" Ellone exclaimed. Her and Irvine walked out of the Palace into the cool evening air. "You're so rude, you know... Not asking how my day was or anything...."

"Because I don't care!" Irvine exclaimed, stretching his arms out.

"You're such a fucking jerk. I don't know why I put up with you...." Ellone crossed her arms over her breasts.

"Because I'm so damn irresistible. Women just want to get on their knees as soon as I walk in a room..."

"Yeah, because they're about to vomit."

"You're so caustic, Elle.... Well, I guess being an old spinster will do that to you."

"At least I'm not a walking VD clinic." Ellone smirked at him.

"Oh, you pierce my heart...." Irvine retorted sarcastically. "Come on... My stomach is beginning to digest itself."

"There you are...."

"Oh, were you looking for me? Did something happen?"

"No, no, no... What, can't I just be glad to see you?"

"Oh.... I was just in the Garden. There were a few people there that I had to clear out."

"We should just get rid of that thing...."

"We can't. But, I think it's nice." Zell wrapped his arms around Seifer's trim waist. "Not as nice as... some of the scenery, though." He stood on his toes, and kissed the other man gently.

"Oh, thank you...." Seifer muttered, rolling his eyes. "You know, Dincht.... You should really grow a few inches."

"A few inches where exactly?" Zell winked. "You've never vocalized displeasure before..." He gave Seifer a seedy grin.

Seifer smirked, sitting on the grassy hill, laying down so he could look at the sky. It was very blue, but almost unnaturally so. "Have you been sensing something... Off lately?"

"Off?" Zell asked, sitting beside Seifer on the emerald green hill. He turned to his lover, resting his chin on Seifer's hard chest. "What do you mean?"

"I mean... Just this feeling I get. It's still hard to understand. But, like something's missing. You know how when air comes out of a tire, and you know it's coming out, but can't find the hole?"

"Yeah....?" Zell nodded. "You think that something's slipping away? Come on...." Zell snorted. "That's silly."

"Well, I mean ever since Ultimecia and Adel controlled us..."

Zell stiffened. "Why do we have to talk about this?"

"Because I think it's important..." Seifer looked at Zell, giving the smaller man a hard, yet loving gaze. "We can't avoid it forever."

"I'd like to try," Zell muttered under his breath.

"Well, we can't. I mean, look around us. They've driven us this far away from everything, everyone else. We have to face it every fucking day, and I'm so sick of hiding. Maybe that's why we're still... Fledgling."

"I don't think we're fledgling. We're doing the best we can."

Seifer touched the side of Zell's face. "I know, baby....But, I can't ignore the feeling that something's wrong...."

"I think you're just being paranoid. What, you think that people are just slipping away under our noses?"

"I... I don't know...." Seifer trailed off.

"Can we not talk about this right now?" Zell asked.

"What would you rather talk.... about....?" Seifer whispered, his voice hitching in his throat as Zell's hand moved into his pants.

Zell crawled onto Seifer's body, his hand still slowly moving over Seifer's groin. "No talking. Not unless it's you saying 'fuck me harder, Zell', okay?"

Seifer panted softly when Zell removed his clothes, the smaller blonde's fist not straying from around Seifer's hard cock. Seifer slowly opened his eyes, looking from the too blue sky to the pale ice of Zell's eyes. "Zell, I...." Seifer began to say, but it ended up coming out as a strangled gasp when Zell covered the head of Seifer's shaft with his hot, velvet mouth. He arched his hips towards Zell's mouth. "Oh, God!"

Zell pulled his mouth off, looking up at Seifer's beautiful, flushed face. "What did I say...?" He asked teasingly, just barely breathing over the head of his lover's penis.

"Fuck me harder, Zell...."

Nida slowly opened his eyes, feeling a warmth in his body, as well as on his face. The warmth on his face was the heating vent that was just above him in the ceiling. The warmth in his body was from the dream he'd been having. Nida yawned, stretching. He felt sort of stiff. Looking around, Nida realized he was in Rinoa's room. He'd fallen asleep in a chair by the window while reading. The room was perfectly silent, but Nida looked around anyway, which caused his head to throb. "Dammit..." He muttered. Since he'd fallen asleep, he had a small fever. Nida looked around the room, and the glinting from Rinoa's chain caught his eye. He slowly got up, his body slightly protesting. Nida sat in the chair beside Rinoa's bed, and looked at the silver ring on the delicate chain. He concentrated on it, and it gently rose off her chest, like it was on strings. Nida spun the chain around, until it was tangled, then untangled it, watching the blue halo of light that surrounded everything in the city bounce off the metallic surface of the ring. As the chain was suspended in air, Nida made the ring rotate around it on its own. He also raised the locks of Rinoa's hair, like a wind gently ruffling the ebony strands.

When Nida felt the heat leave his body, he sighed, lowering Rinoa's chain back to her chest, where it lay still on the fabric of her claret satin pyjamas. Nida sighed, stretching, his back cracking as he did. He thought about his dream, and a warm flush that had nothing to do with his passed fever washed over him. Why was he dreaming about Seifer and Zell? This had been the first time. Any sexual dreams Nida had were always about Squall, even before he'd started 'dating' the auburn haired SeeD. So, why now? Why would he dream of Seifer and Zell now? Was it because of Iudicium, because Zell, possessed by his birth mother, had controlled Iudicium? Or, was it some sort of message? Seifer had telepathically contacted him once before..... Was this another attempt at it? Were Seifer and Zell still alive?

Nida gasped when he felt something brush against his leg. He looked down and saw Vividarium looking up at him, his eyes wide and happy. "I guess you're happy because Squall's back, huh?" Nida asked. In the past months, Vivi had grown, but not much. He was a very small Chocobo.

Vivi chirped, then pranced around the room, looking around, exploring. Nida went back into thought. Maybe a dream was all it was... Just a dream. But, it seemed very life like. Not so much real, but just... Alive. The sky had been an awfully strange blue, too blue, like it was painted, wholly unnatural. Nida sighed again, getting up to retrieve his book. He tried to make mental contact with Iudicium, and shivered when he felt her move within him, like a giant dormant serpent.

What is it, Nida?

"I was just wondering why the dream I had was so clear... Usually dreams that are from you and the powers are... Blurry, and they make no sense. But, this one was very clear."

Well, it seemed a very arousing dream. Why are you komplaining?

"Well, yes it was... Arousing, but not...."

Not Skwall Leonhart.

"Yeah," Nida whispered. "So, does this mean that Seifer Almasy and Zell Dincht are still alive?"

I had nothing to do with that dream, Nida.

"Really?" Nida asked, perplexed. "Okay, then...." He felt Iudicium disappear from his consciousness. Nida just shrugged, and chalked it up with the rest of the strange dreams he had. Nida was just thankful that it wasn't a nightmare. He looked over as Vivi chirped near Rinoa's bed, looking at her shiny necklace. Nida's nightmares could get pretty bad. Both he and Squall would occasionally suffer from them, remembering all the horrible things from the Second Sorceress War. Remembering things like Selphie's brutal death, the cold sound of Ultimecia's laugh, the bubbling, blood coloured eyes of Adel. Nida would also wake up in a cold sweat when he remembered the sound of Rinoa's neck as it cracked when she'd been possessed by Xerampelinae. And, Nida knew that Squall would always be plagued by the memory of killing Seifer and Zell. One nightmare that Nida had really worried him, because it could come true. He sometimes had flashes in his dreams about the other holders of Iudicium's power, especially Ultimecia and Xerampelinae, and how the pale Goddess had judged them all. He was worried that one day, Iudicium would do the same thing to him. He'd asked her about it, and she'd only answered that it depended on how he acted.

Nida smoothed his hands over the front of his grey T-shirt and grumbled incoherently to himself, opening his book once more. He felt so fucked up. If he didn't have Squall, Nida knew that he would be very lost. Despite the fact that everyone thought Squall was cold, he wasn't with Nida. Xu was always very protective of Nida, and always voiced her concerns about the way Squall was treating him, but Nida couldn't be happier. He began reading once more, totally immersed in his book, Usher's Passing. After five or ten minutes, Vivi started warking and making small 'kweh' noises. "Knock it off..." Nida muttered. "You're going to wake up the whole Palace..." He took a side glance at his wristwatch. "It's like almost ten.... Man, Squall must be bored out of his mind...." Nida muttered, flipping the page. Vivi was silent for a few moments, but then started making noise again. Nida could hear the bird scratching at the ground and making low warks in his throat.

"You're not going to go to the bathroom in here, are you?" He asked, flipping the page again. "You know, I come in here for quiet... God, if Rinoa was awake, she'd want to throttle you..." Nida looked up, the book dropping from his hands. Vivi warked happily, sounding like he was huffing at Nida. Nida stood up, rushing towards the bed, where Rinoa was clenching and unclenching her fists. "Oh, my God...." He leaned over her, looking at her face. Rinoa's eyes were still closed, but he could see them slowly moving under her lids. "Rinoa....? Can you hear me? It's Nida.... Rinoa....?" He touched her hand, and she gently gripped it, her fingers moving over his fingers, as if testing that he was really there, feeling that it was a person touching her. "Rinoa?!" He repeated.

She furrowed her brow, as if trying to open her eyes. Her dry, heart shaped lips also parted, and a wheeze came out, mingled with a moan. She slowly licked across her mouth, and opened her eyes. She looked at the sound of the voice. Everything was blurry, but she could tell it was a man standing over her. Rinoa tried to speak, but her throat was sore.

"Rinoa? Can you hear me? Squeeze my hand if you can..."

Rinoa did so, blinking a few times. Her vision was still blurry, but it was slowly clearing.

"Okay! Rinoa, it's Nida. Do you remember me?"

"N......Ni..Nida...?" She asked, her voice hurting her throat. "Wa....wat....water...."

"Okay..." She felt something touch her lips. A cup. She drank the water, which went down cold and soothing through her parched throat. Rinoa blinked a few more times, and she met a pair of warm brown eyes. Nida. She opened her mouth to speak again, but Nida stopped her.

"Don't try to talk right away... You've been in a coma. I'll go get the doctor...." Nida made a move to pull his hand away from Rinoa's, but she held him tightly.

"Don't...." She whispered. "Don't leave me."

Nida sat down beside Rinoa's bed, squeezing her hand. "Okay... But, I have to get the doctor." He closed his eyes, and used his powers to search for Dr. Sunde. The translucent black wings sprouted from Nida's back, and they caused Rinoa's doe brown eyes to widen. She could feel her hand tingling where Nida was touching it, like she was going numb. The warm power began to move slowly up her arm as Nida's wings curled around his body and disappeared. She just looked at him, shocked, when he smiled at her.

"Oh...." Nida whispered. "I'm a Sorcerer... Don't be afraid. It was actually you that gave me the power..."

Rinoa frowned, squeezing Nida's hand. "I remember...." She whispered. It was very much a blur. The last thing she really, truly remembered was being in her father's house in Deling City, and Seifer and Zell coming to the door. But, they weren't really Seifer and Zell. They'd been possessed. Squall had come to stop them, but..... Rinoa gasped, her free hand fluttering to her neck. Her limb felt like it was made of lead. Her fingers frantically searched for broken bones, but found none. There was a small pit of skin on her neck that was rougher than the rest. She trailed a cold fingertip over it. A scar. What happened? She furrowed her brow, thinking of the flash of desert she remembered. Nida was cradled in her arms, and the sky had exploded in warmth, power moving between them, flowing like the blood that was pooling everywhere. She looked over at Nida. He'd been dying in her arms. She felt power moving between them, much like now. Was she still a Sorceress? But... Rinoa remembered dying. What was going on? "What happened?" She whispered.

"You've been in a coma for the past nine months," Nida said softly, brushing some of Rinoa's now shaggy bangs out of her eyes. She needed a haircut. The bangs were now just part of the rest of her hair, which was long, pooling around her shoulders and arms.

"Wha....?" Rinoa asked, coughing. Nida brought the water to her lips again. "Nine months....?"

"You're in Esthar...." Nida explained.

"I'm dead...." Rinoa whispered. "Zell killed me...."

"No... Adel in Zell's body did that. But.... Well, you're alive now. You were possessed by Xerampelinae, and we fought. You took the empathy from my body, and it healed you."

"Zer.....Zeram....?" Rinoa began to ask.

"Shhhh," Nida whispered, squeezing her hand again. "We'll have time to talk later. Squall will be very busy in meetings for a few more hours."

"Squall.....?" Rinoa cocked her head. "Is he here to see me....?"

Nida looked away, a slight flush crossing his smooth cheeks. Rinoa saw his almond shaped eyes move down, as if trying to avoid her gaze.

"He's not here to see me, is he?" Rinoa whispered, trying to sit up. Her head hurt, and felt like a medicine ball, so she just flopped it back down on the pillow.

"I'm sorry...." Nida whispered. "He's here to see....Me." He blushed further.

"Oh...." Rinoa answered, her voice feeling more natural. "You and Squall are... boyfriends?"

Nida nodded, still blushing.

"Nine months...." Rinoa whispered. "So much must have changed."

"Yeah, a lot has changed. I'll tell you everything you want to know after the doctor checks you out. I want to make sure you're okay."

"Is....?" Rinoa almost didn't want to ask. "Is my father here?"

Rinoa saw Nida's eyes fill with sadness. "Oh, Rinoa...." He squeezed her hand. "I'm so sorry...."

"About what?" She asked blandly, her heart plummeting in her chest.

"Rinoa...." Nida whispered.

"Well, this is a miracle!"

Both Asians turned to the door, where Sunde was wearing a grin. He sauntered into the room, which caused Vivi to chirp. "It's so good to see you awake, Miss Heartilly. We were beginning to give up hope."

"I should be dead.....?" Rinoa whispered, making it a question.

"Oh, but you're very much alive, thanks to Nida here. Welcome back to the land of the living."

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