The New Flesh

Chapter Two

By Scarlet Fever

Nida looked at his watch at Dr. Sunde finished fussing over Rinoa. She seemed pretty annoyed with him, wanting to do other things besides say she was fine.

"Well, Miss Heartilly, you're no worse for wear, and that's amazing. Well, you will have to realize that a lot has passed since you were last conscious, so you'll have a lot to get used to. But, I'm sure that you'll have friends who can help you..." He looked over at Nida. "Nida, should I inform Squall and Laguna that she's waken up?"

Nida shrugged. "They might still be in meetings."

Sunde nodded, giving one last ambiguous and amazed glance at Rinoa before leaving.

"You're not leaving, are you?" Rinoa asked, noticing that Nida was looking at his watch again. "Please... Stay for a little while longer." She sat up against the pillows. "I want to ask you about what's been happening since I was passed out." She frowned. "I assume that none of it is good."

"Well, recently it's been better," Nida admitted. "A while back, it was pretty brutal. Oh, Fujin had a baby."

"Oh?" Rinoa smiled. "With Raijin?"

"Of course!"

She snorted. "Well, I didn't know!" Laughing, she fingered at the ring hanging around her pale throat. "A boy or a girl?"

"Girl. They named her Almasy, after Seifer..." Nida trailed off sadly.

"Tell me about it."


Rinoa gave Nida a patient gaze. "About Seifer and Zell. About everything... It's... better to get the bad out of the way first." She frowned. "From what you said before the doctor came in, I assume that something bad happened to my father...?" Her voice cracked as she asked.

"Yeah..." Nida whispered. "He died, Rinoa. I'm sorry."

"How...?" Her voice was so quiet that Nida barely heard her.

"When we were trying to hide Edea so Adel and Ultimecia, in Seifer and Zell's bodies, wouldn't get the last piece of Ultimecia's powers out of her. We were going to freeze her up in the Sorceress Memorial."

"Like me when Ultimecia came last time?"

Nida nodded. "Yeah. Your father died bravely, trying to save everyone."

Rinoa nodded sadly, her head bent. Nida saw a few dark drops forming on the sheets, and fluid splatter on her closed hands in her lap. "You know..." She said, her voice strong, surprisingly so compared to the tears that Nida was seeing falling from behind her dark lashes. "I haven't gotten along with him for the longest time, but we were making real progress, especially after Squall and me broke up. I went home, and we were really trying. And, when we were starting to see eye to eye... He's gone."

Nida reached out and touched Rinoa's hand. She looked up at him, her doe brown eyes shining with regretful tears. "Look... He gave his life for a good cause. They buried him in Deling... Next to your Mother."

She nodded sadly. "I want to go see..."

"I'm sure Sunde won't let you out of this Palace for a while until he's sure you're tip top."

"I'm sure you're right," she agreed laughingly. "So, why is Squall here and not at Garden?"

"He stays in Esthar a lot, to be around Laguna. But, Quistis runs the Garden pretty smoothly, so he's doing a lot of Garden/Esthar joint projects."

"And, you stay here?" Rinoa asked.

Nida nodded. "Yeah. I'm trying to learn more about my powers..."

Rinoa squeezed his hand. "I can feel them. You must be very powerful." Her face darkened. "I was the one who gave them to you."

"Yeah, and you also saved my life..."

"As well as tried to end it," Rinoa pointed out. She sighed, running her free hand through her hair. "Man, I really need a haircut." She sighed. "At least Seifer and Zell are better off now, right?"

Nida nodded sadly. "Yeah. They still affect Squall, though."

"You two must be really close," Rinoa said, her voice measured.

"That bothers you..." Nida whispered, not making his statement a question. The silence was filled when Vivi warked.

"Is this Chocobo your pet?" Rinoa asked, watching it sit beside Nida's feet on the floor.

"He's more Squall's than mine." Nida bent down, and scratched Vivi's neck.

"Do you love him?" Rinoa asked suddenly.

Nida sat up. "Are you jealous?" He pulled his hand away from her, and felt the first strings of uncomfortable air fill the room.

"No..." Rinoa trailed off. "Squall and I are over. I was accepting of that even before this all happened, and so much time has passed." Rinoa sighed, then laughed.

"What's so funny?" Nida asked, confused.

"That... I always felt like I was getting left behind by everyone, and now it's really true. I had a hard enough time keeping up before, and now I have nine months to make up for."

"We'll help...." Nida offered. "Well, for as long as we can."

"You say that like you're going somewhere," Rinoa pointed out.

"We are. Squall got a long vacation, so we're going away together."

"Sounds fun..." Rinoa sighed. "Okay, so tell me more. I mean, about everything. I'm mostly curious about how I got your powers. I mean, after Seifer and Zell... Or, rather Ultimecia and Adel came to my house in Deling City, there's nothing except waking up to a Chocobo in this room. But..."

"But, what?"

She looked at Nida for a few moments, and he could see her mind working behind her eyes.

"But..." Rinoa muttered, her hands beginning to absently knead the covers, like a nervous cat. "I remember something. Maybe it was just a dream... It's so fuzzy. It was this explosion of pink... Like when Time had Compressed and I found Squall. But, this was in a desert."

"We fought in the Esthar Plains... It's bare like a desert," Nida said. "I don't remember much of that, but I remember something warm moving in me."

"Do you think I came back to myself for a little while when Xerampelinae and her powers moved to you?"

Nida nodded. "Yeah. And, I think it was my empathy which saved you."

"I don't know much about empathy," Rinoa admitted. "But, I know that when you're empathic, you can feel magic all around you... Right?"

"Yes. It usually makes you feel ill. I know that if I was around really strong magic, I had a hard time staying conscious."

"Well, I can feel your powers now, but I don't feel sick," Rinoa said. "But, I also feel like... It's my power that I'm feeling. It's hard to explain. I almost feel like a Sorceress again, but not at the same time."

Nida furrowed his elegant brow in thought. "I don't know. Maybe the powers are different for you. We could have Sunde run some tests. Odine isn't around anymore, so we can't ask him."

"He died too, didn't he?" Rinoa asked.

He nodded in response. "Yeah... So many people died because of Ultimecia. I'm just glad we'll never have to see her again."

Rinoa looked out the window, where she could see the skyline of the futuristic Esthar. "But, evil is never truly gone."

"I know," Nida said, taking Rinoa's hand again, offering her some friendly support. "And, that's what scares me."

Quistis looked out the window as the Garden vehicle that she and Xu were riding in stopped at the parking area by the docks of Balamb. Even though the sky was a beautiful cerulean blue, and the water was still and calm, Quistis felt something ominous in the air. The air itself was warm, but she felt a chill move up her spine, and didn't know why.


The blonde looked over to Xu, who touched Quistis's fingers with a whisper of her own. "You seem a million miles away."

"I just have a bad feeling about this..."

"Of course you do," Xu answered darkly, her almond-shaped eyes narrowing. "General Tsepeth wants to basically exterminate Sorcery. What do you think that means for Nida?"

Quistis sighed. "And, for Garden, and Matron." She looked at Xu, her eyes distant behind her glasses. "Well, maybe we'll find out exactly what she means. She could just want some sanctions to prevent power-hungry people with power... Which is something I actually agree on."

Xu bit the inside of her lip. "I doubt that's what she wants, sweetie."

"Well, she was nice enough to meet with us, so let's go." Quistis put her serious, blank face on, and followed Xu out of the car. They walked towards the Balamb Hotel, where General Tevedes Tsepeth would be meeting them in a conference room while she was on a political visit to Balamb. The elections were still a couple of weeks away, and each day made Quistis, Garden and the entire city of Esthar nervous.

"I wonder what she looks like..." Xu murmured. "I've never seen a picture of her. She kind of came out of nowhere."

Quistis nodded distantly, agreeing with her lover. "I know. It bothers me. If she's such a high-power General, where has she been?"

"Secret Ops mission?" Xu offered. "It's the only thing I can come up with..." She suddenly sighed. "Do you think Nida is okay? I'm sure Squall or Laguna told him about Tevedes Tsepeth."

"Nida's a big boy..." Quistis pointed out. "You act like his mother so much, you know that?"

"He's always been kind of fragile, what with his empathy," Xu pointed out. "And, everyone just kind of ignored him and took him for granted."

"Not anymore..." Quistis said, smiling. "He's really carved a niche for himself. He's probably more powerful than Edea now, and Squall's.... Well, Squall is serious about him." She gave Xu a small wink. "You have to let go of your baby..."

"Don't tease me!" Xu exclaimed, laughing. The smile melted from her face as they stepped through the doors of the Balamb Hotel. There were guards everywhere, and they were intimidating, even at first glance. Mentally, Xu thought 'scary' as the first word. They weren't the usual muscle-bound bodyguards that Xu was used to seeing around high profile people, like the ones that President Loire hated so much. These all looked like they'd just stepped out of their coffins or something. Dead, blank looks in their eyes as they looked at Quistis and Xu, like they were looking right down to their bones and muscles, right down to their souls. Xu couldn't help but shiver.

A woman came out of a doorway, leading to the convention rooms of the Hotel. She saw Quistis and Xu, and smiled. It was a pleasant enough smile, but it made Xu shiver, and Quistis stiffen. She had very pale eyes, the colour of limpid peridots. Her hair was strange colour of pure gold, glittering like it was actually metallic. Xu figured it was some sort of pomade, but her eyebrows had the same sort of metallic quality, which just struck the Asian woman as odd. The woman's face was very pale and white, which seemed to match the funeral home complexion of the bodyguards that were standing around. Quistis and Xu both figured this woman to also be a bodyguard. She was very tall, taller than both women, maybe taller than Seifer had been, and her body showed taut muscles under her long black coat. There were some daggers strapped to her biceps, as well as a shoulder holster with a Magnum in it, a cross-draw holster with what looked like a Glock, and a sword sheath down her back.

"Headmaster Trepe?" The woman asked, her voice very commanding, yet easy sounding. She immediately looked to Quistis with her blank green eyes. "So glad you could come. I am the General's personal bodyguard, Pallas."

"Yes.... Hello..." Quistis extender her hand, which the other woman shook heartily. Their gloves creaked together.

"The General is expecting you." Pallas gave Xu a once over. "And, you must be.... General Yun Ling, right?"

"Yeah," Xu answered, finding it hard to keep the bitterness out of her voice. "We don't want to keep General Tsepeth waiting."

Pallas smiled thinly, and Xu just wanted to crawl out of her skin. What a bunch of creepy people.

"Right this way..." Pallas whispered, flipping some of the locks of her curling gold hair off her shoulder. It glinted in the light like spun metal.

Xu and Quistis shared a look that they didn't think escaped one eye of the silent bodyguards around the room. The followed Pallas, and her dangerous looking sword into the room. There was a person sitting at one end of the table. At first, it was hard to say if it was General Tsepeth, because neither Quistis nor Xu was sure if the person was a man or a woman. When they stood, they could see the bust line under the military coat, and knew they were looking at Tevedes Tsepeth. She strode towards them, the leather of her long coat creaking, the heels of her shining black boots tapping on the floor.

"Ah, Headmaster. I'm pleased that you decided to meet with me." Tevedes held out one gloved hand, which Quistis didn't take right away. She was too busy staring at Tevedes's face, and more particularly, her eyes. They made Quistis want to shiver, and more that Pallas. Under the shadow of the bill of General Tsepeth's military style hat were eyes that didn't seem human. For, Tevedes Tsepeth seemed to lack irises. There was no colour in her eyes, save the milky white, and the small, contracted black dot for a pupil. There was a slight ring of grey to signify an iris. She had to have the palest grey eyes in existence, because Quistis had to more imagine the irises than see them. Her skin was also as pale as her eyes, which gave the General an ethereal quality, like she was glowing. It was the only thing that could probably be considered beautiful about her. Tevedes wasn't ugly by any stretch of the imagination, but she was so hard and stern looking that it was hard to think of her as a beautiful woman. To go along with the cold white eyes was a stare that was as cold as liquid nitrogen.

Quistis shook Tevedes's hand limply. "General... We aren't taking time out of your schedule, are we?"

Tevedes waved a hand, and made a motion with her mouth as if to smile. She continued to stare coldly at Quistis. "Well, I don't think this will be a wholly friendly visit, considering what you all are." Tevedes folded her arms over her breasts. Her entire outfit was black, like a hole in space. In fact, Tevedes seemed to lack any colour at all. Even her lips were almost white. The only colour to the General was the slight straw tinge to her whitish blonde hair, which only showed as a few wisps under the hat. The gold bands that wrapped around Tevedes's upper arms, decoration on her coat, were the only colour. It wasn't the same gold as Pallas's metallic hair, but more like a burning sulphuric amber. Even the bars on General Tsepeth's coat, to signify her rank, were without colour. They were just metallic and silver.

"What does that mean, exactly?" Xu asked.

"Sit, please..." Tevedes made another motion with her hand. "I mean, your relationship with the city of Esthar as an organization. You do realize that everything wrong in the world is because of the evils that the city has produced. I mean, letting Adel reign not once, not twice, but thrice. True, SeeD was there to stop her, but at what price? President Loire is lax on magical creatures."

"Sorcerers and Sorceresses aren't creatures!!" Xu exclaimed hotly. "They're people, too!"

"Oh?" Tevedes raised an almost non-existent eyebrow, as pale as the rest of her, void of colour, of life. "People who use and abuse the 'gift of Hyne'?" She made sarcastic quotation marks with her gloved fingers. As Tevedes moved her arms, Xu caught a glimpse of some sort of unnatural lumping in the sleeves of the leather trenchcoat. It was like rings. Xu figured it was a hidden weapon of some sort. "People? They killed other human beings, just to gain power!"

"That's just a few," Quistis said slowly. "But, there have been so many Sorceresses that have been good."

"Are you sure about that?" Tevedes asked sharply. "So far, in my traveling, I've not heard a good story that doesn't come without a bad one. Even your beloved Edea Kramer is nothing more than a murderer."

Quistis and Xu both opened their mouths to speak, but Tevedes continued. "And, the use of magic has ruined society, making everyone lazy, and dependant. It's also raised monster strength, so the people who can't afford to enter an elitist school like Garden suffer because of abuse from others."

"You're twisting everything around!" Xu ranted.

"Xu..." Quistis whispered. "However, General Yun Ling is correct. You're misconstruing everything. Magic has been proven to work, and even the army has used it."

"With failure..." Tevedes pointed out. "Even you can contest, Headmaster, that the Galbadian, and even Esthar army, have lost time and time again against power hungry Sorceresses and whores of magic, as well as losing to your own Garden, even with magic use. It's time to turn back to our own means."

"Potions are magic, too..." Xu pointed out angrily.

"Made with human hands... Easy to control, Missie."

Xu felt anger boil in her.

"You're not preaching to a crowd here," Quistis said, her own anger slow-burning within her. "You don't need to give us your rhetoric."

"Oh, but I do. See, with the elections in Galbadia fast approaching, I think what I believe is your concern." Tevedes sat in her chair, and suddenly looked behind Quistis's shoulder with her almost reptilian, white eyes.

Quistis turned around, and saw a woman suddenly in the room. She hadn't heard anyone come in, so was a bit surprised. It was like she appeared from the shadows.

"General Tsepeth, you have your speech to think of," the woman said. Her voice had a liquid quality, and seemed to roll over the entire room. She also had a bit of a hissing lisp. It didn't make her sound like a snake so much as it made her sound like the shadows she seemed to materialize from. Her hair was inky black, as well as her eyes, like she was cut from night. She was wearing a black shift dress that flowed around her like ink, which suggested to Quistis that this woman was more part of Tevedes's PR team, and wasn't a bodyguard like Pallas.

"Thank you." Tevedes's eyes turned to Quistis and Xu. "I'm sorry that this was cut short."

Quistis just raised an eyebrow and stood up. "Well, thank you for your time, but we're on very, very different pages."

Before Quistis and Xu could exist, Tevedes called after them. "Oh, Headmaster!"

"Yes?" Quistis asked darkly.

"I thought I should let you know that if I win the election, something I'm confident in, then I will be closing Galbadia Garden permanently."

Quistis opened her mouth to protest, but found that Pallas was suddenly right behind her, herding them out with her height, and the threat of the entire armoury she seemed to be carrying on her person. The woman in black, with her inky pageboy covering one eye and part of the left side of her face, smiled, her dark eyes dancing. Quistis had to blink, because she thought she saw something entirely different form in the shadows of her face.

"The General is a very busy woman," Pallas stated, already slightly pushing Quistis and Xu out the door. "If you would like to schedule another meeting...?"

"We'll see how the elections go, thank you," Quistis snapped, brushing her hands down the front of her SeeD uniform. "Good day, General."

Pallas smiled thinly, but it was Tevedes's cold glare that ushered Quistis and Xu out the room. Both women quickly left the Hotel, feeling uneasy around all the bodyguards.

"What the fuck was that?!" Xu asked when they were on the sunny street, away from the winter of General Tsepeth's glare. "And they say that Sorcerers are abominations?"

Quistis just blinked. "Can we walk around for a while, Xu? I don't feel like going to the Garden right now..."

Xu squeezed her lover's hand. "Okay. There's no way in Hell that I'll let her close Galbadia Garden." Xu frowned. "Did you notice that she looked like...?"

"She'd been bathing in bleach?" Quistis offered. "Her eyes..."

"They were all creepy. I mean, Pallas's hair look like metal, but compared to the General..."


"Mmm?" The Asian General looked at the blonde woman beside her.

"Did you notice something really odd about General Tsepeth?"

Xu snorted. "Everything about her is really odd, love. She's just a fascist and oppressive bigot."

"Yeah, but... Xu, she never blinked. Not once."

"I'm sure she did..." Xu trailed off.

"But, I was watching her most of the time, and I never saw her blink."

"I don't know, I never noticed," Xu admitted. "I just hope I never have to see her again. I'm sure the Delings will whip her butt in the elections."

Quistis nodded, but she didn't have the same confidence as Xu had. She had a very bad feeling about Tevedes Tsepeth, and everyone that surrounded her, and knew that it would be a nightmare if they were elected, especially for Nida and the rest of Esthar.

Squall walked down the hallway, looking at his watch. It was two in the morning, way later than he'd expected to be in a meeting. But, as he blew into his shaggy auburn bangs, he wasn't surprised. Laguna always talked and talked and talked, and probably would have kept going if Squall hadn't stopped him because he'd only been rambling and repeating things he'd already said.

Squall sighed, looking at his watch again. Nida hadn't been in his room, and Squall didn't know where he could be.

"Mr. Leonhart?"

Squall turned around, and saw a Palace Page standing behind him. "Yes?"

"I just wanted to let you know that Miss Heartilly woke up. Nida's with her right now."

Squall's eyebrows shot up. "What? When did this happen?"

"Earlier this evening."

Squall nodded, and quickly jogged towards Rinoa's room. Even before he got there, he could see Vivi walking around the hallway, disappearing in and out of the open door. He stopped when he heard the faint murmur of voices. Immediately, he knew that it was Nida and Rinoa. His former and current lover, talking to each other. Squall stopped in the doorway, leaning on the frame. He stayed silent when he watched, not wanting Rinoa or Nida to see him right away.

Rinoa was sitting up in bed, wearing a pair of wine-coloured pyjamas. Her hands were folded in her lap, and she was watching Nida intently, listening to him. Squall could see that her almond-shaped eyes were rimmed with red, as if she'd been crying. But, she also looked happy. Nida must have been telling her about all the stuff that happened while she was either dead or in the coma. Squall couldn't help but grin, the movement just tugging at the corners of his mouth, when he thought of how Nida could make anyone feel better. Well, Squall knew he personally always felt better when talking to Nida. The scarred man's stormy eyes narrowed when he thought that he could see Rinoa smiling a little too widely, especially since Nida must have told her about her father, and Selphie, and all the other horrible stuff that had happened. He felt a hot flash pass through his body, burning his muscles.

"So, you think that Irvine's finally ready to move on?" Rinoa asked. "From what you're saying, you think he and Ellone are really getting closer..."

"I don't know..." Nida sighed. "I'm just glad that everyone's moving on." He sighed again, and Squall saw Nida reach his hand out, taking one of Rinoa's own. "Do you think you'll be able to do that?"

She shrugged, touching the ring at the hollow of her throat with her free hand. "I don't know. I mean, you've been more than accommodating in telling me all this bad stuff, Nida. And, I was sort of removed from it, so it hasn't affected me as much as you guys, because I wasn't an eyewitness."

"But, you'll have to deal with the fact that you were, in fact, dead."

"I know..." Rinoa sighed. "Will Edea be around Esthar much? I really want to ask her about this feeling I have..." She touched her chest, and squeezed Nida's hand. "I feel lucky that you were the one to talk to me about this. I think if it had been the doctor or something, I wouldn't feel as... I don't know... Accepting of everything." She cocked her head, her now long, long ebony hair falling over her shoulders as she gave Nida a sunny smile.

Vivi suddenly started chirping loudly at Squall's feet, rubbing his small, yellow body against Squall's leather pants. This caused Nida and Rinoa to turn to the doorway. Nida's smile grew, while Rinoa's faltered a bit.

"Squall..." She breathed out. She saw a dark look in his eyes, which made her feel a bit nervous.

"How long have you been standing there?" Nida asked, his smile turning into a grin.

"Not too long." Squall entered the room, and stood next to Nida, resting his hip against his lover's side. "Glad to see you're awake, Rinoa..." He muttered, still looking at her.

Rinoa sighed, realizing that Squall was staring at her hand, joined with Nida's. She released it, and put her hands in her lap, among the sheets. "Thank you." She looked at him. "I'm sorry about everything."

"Don't apologize," Squall said, his voice slightly terse. He still felt that hot jealousy coursing through his body. "So, what's this about powers...?" He asked.

"I don't know..." Rinoa sighed, smiling at the Chocobo who was now dancing on the spot, happy that Squall was there. "It's just a feeling. Like... There's someone with me."

"Is it Nida's powers you feel?"

"No, no... At least, I don't think so. It's more like it's within me. Maybe it's the empathy."

"You don't sound sure," Nida pointed out, looking over at Squall when he felt a firm hand on his shoulder.

"Because I'm not," Rinoa said, laughing sheepishly. She tucked some of her hair behind her ears. "What time is it?"

"Two in the morning," Squall answered. He turned to Nida. "I guess we won't get to leave as early as I would have liked. Actually, I don't think we can leave tomorrow."

"Well, we have lots of time," Nida said, smiling gently at Squall.

"Oh, you're talking about your vacation, right?" Rinoa asked.

"Yes..." Squall said. The word sounded very hard.

"Squall...?" Nida asked, his own voice sounding confused.

"Quistis might contact us tomorrow. She was supposed to meet General Tsepeth today." Squall then turned to Rinoa. "My father might want to talk to you about her."

"Who's General Tsepeth?" Rinoa asked.

"Well, I guess that will be a short discussion," Squall mused. He ran his hand through Nida's hair. "We should probably leave Rinoa to rest."

Rinoa laughed softly, biting her lip. "Sounds like you want to be alone. But, I'm sure that Dr.... What's his name will agree with you. Right, doctor?"

"Right, Miss Heartilly..." Sunde answered, coming into the room. "Nida, I'm sure you've been filling her in on what's going on?"

Nida nodded. "Yeah." He stood, which caused Squall to take a few steps back. "Rinoa, we'll talk again tomorrow if you have more questions, okay?"

"And, I'm sure I'll have a million," Rinoa said, laughing. "Squall... It's nice to see you, okay?"

He just nodded.

"Okay, okay... Out!" Sunde commanded. After Squall and Nida had left, Vivi following them, he turned to Rinoa. "Are you okay? There are some good psychologists on staff here."

"No, no... Really." She sighed. "I've received lots of bad news today, but I'm just glad to be alive, doctor."

"Are you hungry?"

"Not really.... I'm just sleepy and stiff feeling." She laughed. "I'd kind of like a haircut and a bath." She looked down at her pyjamas. "Well, it seems that I've been taken good care of."

"Yeah, you have. Now, look, Miss Heartilly. I couldn't help but overhear that you feel some sort of power. I don't feel any Sorcery, and I've been running a few tests on you, and you aren't a Sorceress. But, this feeling of power does concern me."

"Maybe it's just Nida. I mean, I've been with him since I woke up..." She trailed off, looking into the empty doorway. "Squall seemed.... Distant."

"Yeah. That's because he is distant. After what happened with Mr. Dincht and Mr. Almasy, he's been rather quiet."

"He also didn't seem glad to see me."

Sunde shrugged. "That's just his way."

"Yeah, I know that all too well..." She sighed, troubled. "But, at least Nida was more than nice to me."

"He sits in here a lot... Just for a quiet place." Sunde opened his mouth, but closed it again as he checked Rinoa's blood pressure.

"What were you going to say, doctor?"

"No, it's nothing."

"Tell me," Rinoa demanded.

"Follow the light with your eyes," he commanded.

She did as she was told, frowning. "Please tell me what you were going to say..."

"Oh, just that he's really the only person who checked on you. President Loire came once and a while, but he's..."

"He's busy," Rinoa said, not feeling slighted. At least, not by Laguna. "And, the fact that someone was here when I woke up was nice."

"Well, you seem perfectly fine, and exceptionally alert."

"Well, considering that I've been asleep for this long, I feel great. Physically, anyway." She smiled distantly. "Most people don't get a second chance."

"No, you're right. You're a very lucky lady." He cocked his head. "Tell me about this power."

"I can't... Mainly because I don't know how to describe it..." Rinoa whispered.

"Maybe in a few days, you'll either notice it went away, or be able to verbalize it better." Sunde put his hands in his pockets. "Want me to cast sleep on you so you can get more rest?"

She laughed. "No, please don't."

"Okay. I'll come check on you in the morning. And, glad to see you're awake again, Miss Heartilly."

"Please, call me Rinoa. Miss Heartilly is just so formal."

"Whatever you say... Rinoa..." Sunde muttered, giving her a small, professional smile before leaving.

Rinoa sighed, laying back against her pillows. She wiggled her toes, looking at the movement. Her muscles felt stiff. She decided to get up, and use her body. Her bare feet squeaked against the tiled floor as she walked to the window, shaking out her legs with each step.

"Dad..." Rinoa whispered. "We didn't always get along, but... It's hard to think of you as being gone." She looked out at the Esthar skyline. "And, Squall's so... cold. It's almost like he's disappointed that I woke up." She touched her hand. "He was jealous. I guess that means he doesn't love me anymore." She sighed. "I wish I knew what this feeling is. It hasn't gone away since Nida left." Rinoa felt a little foolish talking to herself, but she wanted to use her voice.

It'll be chaos out there soon. You'll be safe here.

Rinoa sighed deeply, flipping her hair over her shoulders. She wasn't used to it being so long. She sat in the chair that Nida had been using before she woke up, and rested her forearms on the windowsill, looking out to the city, which was still bustling, even though it was two in the morning. It didn't have the same loud, traffic clogged din that Deling City had, but more of a quiet, mechanical hum. At the time, she'd thought that General Caraway had been too hard on her, and was only trying to oppress her, but Rinoa realized now that he only wanted to protect her.

"You were right, Dad..." Rinoa whispered, closing her eyes as the cool night breeze kissed her face. "I was just too much of a child to see it. I guess it's a bit late for me to have matured into understanding you." She laughed. "I wasn't SeeD. I wasn't even in the military. The Forest Owls aren't the same thing. You knew that I wasn't military. Hell, I knew it, too. When Zell and Squall fought, they were a million years ahead of me. And, Quistis... She was so mature. Even Selphie. I wasn't like them, and you knew that. You didn't want to endanger the mission, and you didn't want to endanger me." She sighed sadly, feeling a tear fall out of the corner of her closed eye. Now that Nida was gone, Rinoa felt like crying. "Maybe it was fate that I didn't listen to you, but I could have at least said 'I love you' one last time..." She looked out at Esthar again. "I hope you knew..."

I knew, Rinoa.

Her eyes fluttered open as she heard a voice. It wasn't a tangible noise, but more like a whisper in her ear, as if blowing outwards from in her mind. She sat up from her crouched position, looking around the room. It was dark, and still. She was the only person there. But, the voice of her father had been crystal clear in her ears. She looked over her shoulder again before curling up against the windowsill once more. "I must be going insane..." She closed her eyes, and the sleep that Dr. Sunde had wanted her to get came over her. But, Rinoa didn't really feel like she had fallen asleep, although part of her knew she did. She was still in her 'room' in Esthar, although it was more like a hospital cubicle. Maybe in the morning, she would ask Laguna, if it wasn't too much trouble, if she could have a room that didn't smell like a medicine cabinet.

Rinoa sat up, and her motions felt logy to her. She stretched her arm out in front of her, testing it. It was like she was underwater, and there was a visual trail left behind, like her eyes weren't working, and the imprint of the movement was burning into her retina. "What is this place?" she asked, although she knew she would find no answer. It was still the Esthar Palace, but it just felt different. She stood up, and walked towards a sliver of light. It was coming off the gold hands of a clock on the wall. Rinoa hadn't noticed it before, and stumbled towards it, feeling like she was more swimming than walking. It was a large clock with a circular face, and beautiful roman numerals signifying each hour. The hour and minute hands were elegant, gold gilded works of art. The second hand, which was moving far too fast to be correct was shaped like an hourglass, also burnished gold. "Must be broken..." Rinoa whispered, cocking her head.

The face of the clock itself looked like a withered parchment. It was a map. Rinoa could make out the continents of Esthar, Galbadia, Trabia, Centra and Balamb. But, Centra looked more together, so she figured it was an old map, from before the Lunar Cry that had ravaged the continent. The clock ticked as all the hands touched the twelve. The hourglass second hand moved past the numbers, and Rinoa saw that each number seemed to disappear as the hourglass touched it, vanishing into thin air. But, some of them stayed. The I disappeared, along with the II, the IV, the VIII, the X and the XI. When each one disappeared, a strange gold, burning sulphur light seemed to illuminate behind the continents, reminding Rinoa of an illuminated Globe that had been her mother's. Slowly, the other numbers disappeared, until the face was blank, and the continents were all humming with the amber light.

This is bad.

Rinoa whipped her head around when she heard a voice. There, again, was nobody behind her. The room was still as it was when she'd been sitting by the window. The clock was the only difference. Except, there was something building in Rinoa's chest. It wasn't painful, but just... Odd, and something that she couldn't place. It actually felt nice, like she was coming home. It was a very familiar feeling, like she used to get when Squall would hug her when things had been going good between them, or when her mother had sung to her to help Rinoa get to sleep as a girl.

You can tell this isn't good. You're starting to be in tune with us.

Rinoa looked around again, but nobody was there. The voice sounded familiar, but it wasn't her father. It was male, but younger, and didn't have the same gravely context General Caraway's voice had.

"Is this supposed to mean something?" Rinoa asked. "Why did the numbers disappear?" She figured since this had to be a dream, it was okay to talk to disembodied voices.

It's all slipping away.

"Like an hourglass?" Rinoa asked, utterly confused. "What's slipping away?" she asked, looking back at the clock. She felt a hand, very tangible, come to rest on her shoulder. Off by heart, she knew it wasn't her father touching her, which was amazing to her. They hadn't gotten along for so long, that Rinoa amazed herself with knowing his touch from someone else's. It felt familiar, but it wasn't her father, or Squall, the two men she'd been most familiar with. But, she wasn't afraid. It all felt like home, like the touch, the voice, the feeling, like it all belonged. She reached her hand up, and covered the hand on her shoulder with her own. "Something terrible is going to happen..." She whispered, slowly turning around to look at the person behind her.

Rinoa slowly opened her eyes, staring at the blueness of Esthar. She'd known it had been a dream, and that she would wake up, but Rinoa felt sad that she had. The warm feeling that had encompassed her was still there, but very faint, almost non-existent.

"I should probably get back in bed..." She muttered to herself, getting out of the chair. "I'm already stiff enough as it is without falling asleep in a chair." As Rinoa walked to the bed, she touched her shoulder, which still felt strangely and pleasantly warm.

"Don't you think you were a little rude?" Nida asked, propping his weight up on his elbows as he looked at Squall. They were laying on Nida's bed, partially clothed. The hour had really caught up with them, so both were too tired to have a go at fucking. They were just laying beside each other, while Nida filled Squall in on the details of Rinoa's recovery.

"Was I?" Squall asked distantly. "Dad's gonna be upset that she's never heard of General Tsepeth. I hope Quistis contacts us early tomorrow."

"Squall, you're avoiding my question," Nida pointed out. "I think you could have been nicer to Rinoa."

"She seemed awfully glad to be with you," Squall spat out bitterly, saying it before he'd even had time to think of the words. He shifted his gaze down so he wouldn't have to look in Nida's eyes, which he knew would be slightly hard with anger. Whenever Nida got angry, Squall could see Iudicium lurking underneath. The warm coffee colour of Nida's irises would turn to a hard onyx, and Squall could almost see the translucent, magical black wings forming.

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Nida asked, laughing in confusion. "She just woke up, Squall! She needs friends, support."

"I know..." Squall admitted glumly.

"Are you... jealous?" Nida asked, tilting Squall's face up so he could look in the other man's stormy blue eyes.

"No!" Squall exclaimed, swatting Nida's hand away. "I just.... Look, the Tevedes situation is a lot more serious than we told you it was."

"You're worried about that?" Nida asked, rolling over so he was on his side.

Squall nodded. "It could prove to be really volatile, especially for you. I'm worried."

"That's sweet, Squall, but you don't have to be. Well, what does Edea think of all this, with Tevedes Tsepeth and all?"

Squall shrugged. "I don't know. She seems okay. I haven't really talked about it with her." He cocked his head, giving Nida a serious gaze. "Can we please not talk about General Tsepeth anymore?" He held up a hand as soon as Nida opened his mouth. "Or Rinoa. Please."

"What do you want to talk about, then?"

"Nothing," Squall said simply, crawling across the bed towards Nida. When Squall felt Nida's arms wrap around him, he felt the electrical twitch of power move over his skin, and couldn't help but purr like a cat as Nida petted him like one. Squall liked the magical feeling that moved over him. He'd never experienced it before, for Rinoa had lost her powers when they'd gotten to be sexual together. But, Nida's power was far darker in essence than Rinoa's had been, so it felt far more sensual, darker, while Rinoa's, while she'd been a Sorceress, had been warm, and healing. Squall curled into Nida's arms, resting his head under his lover's chin, feeling the zing of power, and the tickle of the feathers of Nida's wings, wings Squall knew that he could only feel, and wouldn't be able to see. The power, the wings, and Nida's hands moving over his skin made Squall forget about Tevedes Tsepeth, and about the way Rinoa had been smiling at Nida and squeezing his hand. It was almost as if with Rinoa's resurrection, that a bad feeling had blanketed Squall, like she's brought something back with her from the brink of death. Squall sighed as Nida's hands moved down his spine in a firm massage. It was just his irrational fears making a comeback, in the form of paranoia around Rinoa, instead of the form of a mutated Lion, as it had with Griever during the Neo-Sorceress War.

When Nida's hands moved over Squall's body, the power following suit, building up around Squall, tingling his flesh into goosebumps, the scarred SeeD felt his tension melt down his body as well. I'm worrying too much. I have vacation from Garden. Nida and I are going to the Triple Triad tournament, I'm going to meet his parents. We're going to be alone together. Quistis and Xu can handle Garden, Dad can handle Esthar, and Dr. Sunde can handle Rinoa. Stop worrying, Squall.

"Why are you so tense?" Nida asked, massaging Squall's shoulders, using his power to make it a deep muscle massage.

Squall shook his mane of hair, mewling like a content cat. "Nothing. I'm fine. It's just late."


"Very..." Squall whispered, opening his eyes. He kissed Nida gently, their lips only blushing against each other. "Very sure."

I just felt horribly stiff. What had happened to me? I couldn't remember for the life of me. I felt very cold, and was slapped into further consciousness again and again with something horribly cold. I sat up, and everything was so dark. So dark. The cold was water. I was laying on a beach, the sand clumping to my shivering flesh. I was freezing, only clothed in some clothes that were stiff with caked, dried blood that looked fairly old. I could see my breath as I tried to rise to my feet. But, I was like a new foal, and just fell back on my ass again. I couldn't help but want to cry. I couldn't remember anything, except my name, and distant events and people. Why was I on a beach in winter, passed out against the foaming break of waves? I could hear the kind of mucky sounds of footsteps coming towards me. I just raised my tired eyes, but couldn't really see anything. My eyes weren't focusing, weren't adjusting to the darkness. All I could see was this bright moonlight, so pale. It was a huge cloud of just... Paleness in front of me, but I couldn't make anything out. It was like the moonlight wasn't working, or wasn't light.

"What are you doing here?"

I opened my mouth. There was a voice from somewhere. From the moonlight. It was a person? "I..."

"Who did this to you?" The voice asked. Female, concerned. "You're all covered in blood. Are you okay?"

For some reason, from the tone of her voice, I knew that she knew I was okay, and was just trying to soothe me so I wouldn't run away. "I...." That seemed to be all I could say.

"You look terrible. I'll help you. I bet I know who did this to you..." She said bitterly, but I think I heard a note of malicious joy in her cool voice.

I just nodded, not really knowing what was going on. I felt her hands, which were strong, lift me up, and all I could do was pass out as she whispered. "Esthar will fall for this...."

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