The New Flesh

Chapter Three

By Scarlet Fever

"Is it okay if I come in?"

Fujin looked up from the book she was reading, and her eye widened when Rinoa stood there, her hands clasped neatly in front of her familiar sleeveless duster. Today, she wore a knee length black shift dress under it and a pair of soft black leather boots that disappeared under the hem. Instead of the fabric over her forearms, she wore black gloves that reached the middle of her biceps. Her hair was cut from when she'd woken up that previous night, and her bangs were returned. The length was longer than usual, and her ebony tresses fell to her waist. The caramel highlights that had been Rinoa Heartilly's trademark so long ago were back, but went down the length of that long hair in bigger chunks.

"RINOA!" Fujin exclaimed. She'd known that Rinoa had woken up, for the guards and servants could talk of nothing else. But, she was still surprised to see her standing in the doorway.

Rinoa nervously touched the ring that hung familiarly between the collarbones. She also wore a ribbon of black satin around her throat, to cover the scar that she didn't want to see or think about. "Hi, Fujin. You look lovely."

"Oh..." She trailed off. "I still haven't worked off the pregnancy."

"That's why I'm here..." Rinoa toed the carpet with one square-heeled boot. "Since it's so early in the morning, and I saw you were up, I was wondering if I could see your baby. Nida told me..."

"Oh! Sure!" Fujin waved an arm. "She's sleeping right now. Almasy kept Raijin up all night, so he's out for the count."

"I'm sure Seifer would be honoured that you named your child after him."

Fujin shrugged sadly, squeezing one of Rinoa's bare shoulders. "I'm sure he would be. So, you know....?"

Rinoa nodded, tucking some of her newly highlighted hair behind one ear. She'd woken up at the crack of the Esthar dawn, and one of the servants that Laguna had provided had cut and styled Rinoa's hair. She was really beginning to feel more like herself, and thanked Laguna mentally for bringing her a lot of her clothes. It made her feel normal again.

"Yeah, Nida told me everything last night. He was so nice to me."

"I think he feels a..."

"Connection?" Rinoa interrupted. "Yeah, I think because of his empathy, and what happened in the Esthar Plains. Oh!" Rinoa's pretty face broke into a smile. "She's so precious!" Rinoa bit her lower lip. The baby had Fujin's crimson eyes, but Raijin's dark complexion and hair, which was beginning to grow in wispy chunks. "You know... I thought for the longest time that Squall and I would have a baby just like this one..." Rinoa gently stroked a gloved finger over Almasy's face, and she gurgled happily. "If it were a girl, I wanted to name it Garnet. Garnet was my mother's favourite gemstone."

Fujin sighed, smiling down at her daughter. "Then, you must know about... Squall...?"

"Yeah, I know." Rinoa's heart-shaped face darkened a little. "He came in while Nida was talking to me. I think he was jealous..."

"JEALOUS?!" Fujin exclaimed. "Of what?"

"I... I don't know... I found it hard to read him. You know, when Squall and I first met, and got to know each other all those years ago, I really got to know him, what he was thinking just by the look on his face. But, now... He's like a closed book. I got the feeling, though, that he wasn't too happy to see me awake."

"Everything that's happened has really affected Squall. I mean... There are tapes of Squall destroying Ultimecia and Adel, in Seifer and Zell's bodies. It's not pretty."

"Yeah," Rinoa echoed, tickling Almasy, who laughed. She giggled, then grew serious. "Nida told me about them. I don't know if I want to see them, but part of me thinks it's a good idea, in order to understand everything that everyone went through. You know, in order to gauge the whole situation around me."

"I think if it weren't for Nida, Squall would have fallen apart."

Rinoa nodded. "Yeah, I can see that. You know... Nida was always forgettable during the older days, when I was first dating Squall, and all the stuff with Garden was happening. But, he seems to have come into his own. I mean....." She scrunched up her face. "How can I explain it. He's still very mild-mannered, almost like he wants to remain forgettable, but there's something that won't let that happen anymore."

"You gleaned this from one night of talking to him?" Fujin asked. "But, I agree. Nida just always went about his business. He still tries to, but his powers prevent it. He commands attention now, even if he doesn't want it. I guess he and Squall are alike in that respect."

Rinoa looked down at Almasy. "Can I pick her up?"

"Sure!" Fujin exclaimed. "Here's a towel. I wouldn't want her puking all over your favourite piece of clothing."

Rinoa laughed. "Oh, she's perfect!" She felt her maternal instinct begin to work. "You know... It's almost like I'm an infant, too. I mean, I was asleep for nine months...."

"Yeah, I guess the world has changed."

"I think I've changed, too...." Rinoa whispered.

"Huh?" Fujin cocked her head, her shaggy silver hair falling to one side. "What does that mean?"

"I honestly don't know, Fujin. I just... Feel differently. Dr. Sunde can't really make heads or tails of it, and neither can I. Nida suggested that I might have taken his empathy, but when curative magic was being used on me, I didn't feel any sort of reaction..." She trailed off.


"No, it's nothing..." Rinoa bounced Almasy a little bit, which the baby seemed to like.

"It's not nothing...." Fujin put her hands on her hips. "TELL ME."

"It's stupid."

"By the look on your face, you don't seem to think it is."

Rinoa put Almasy back in her crib. "I got this odd dream last night, and it felt different than any dream I'd had before... Almost like some sort of premonition..."

Fujin shrugged. "If it were a premonition, it wouldn't be the oddest thing that goes on around here. I mean, Nida talks to a Goddess of Judgement that lives in his head, and Laguna's here, so anything he says is weird." She snickered. "If it bothers you, you shouldn't make light of it."

"But...." Rinoa trailed off, playing with the ends of her hair. "I also thought I heard my father's voice. But, Nida told me he was killed."

"He was very brave," Fujin pointed out. "You guys had your problems, huh?"

"Yeah...." Rinoa sighed. "But, now that he's gone...."

"I know."


Both Rinoa and Fujin turned. Quistis was standing in the door, dressed in a black men's suit that was tailored to her body. The cut of the thigh length coat flattered her figure. Under it, she wore a shimmering gold satin shirt that brought out her honey complexion. Her eyes were shiny and thoughtful behind her glasses.

"Quistis!" Rinoa exclaimed. She smiled brightly as the blonde woman entered the room, and gave her a quick, but firm hug. "You look great!"

"As do you..." Quistis commented.

"Where's Xu?" Fujin asked, looking behind Quistis.

"She went to find Laguna. This isn't a wholly pleasant visit."

"Oh?" Fujin asked. She lowered her voice. "Is it about the General?"

"General?" Rinoa asked, blinking a few times. "You mean... General... Tsepeth, or whatever?"

Both Quistis and Fujin stared at her. "How did you know?" Quistis asked.

"After I woke up, and Squall came into the room, he said something about her, and Laguna wanting to know if I'd heard of her."

"Have you?" Quistis asked, her countenance darkening.

Rinoa shook her head. "The name doesn't ring a bell. Why would people think I've heard of her?"

"Because she's a General in the Galbadian Army. I think she took over your father's place, actually. Maybe you'd met her at a dinner or something."

Rinoa shrugged. "No...." She noticed that Quistis was frowning. "Is there a problem?"

Quistis waved her hands, her shiny gold nail polish glinting. "No, I don't want to bother you."

"Don't shelter me!" Rinoa demanded, putting her fists on her hips in typical Rinoa fashion. "Please, tell me."

"She's..... I can't explain it. I met her yesterday at the Balamb Hotel."

"What's she like?" Fujin asked, crossing her arms over her chest. "She's such a mystery."

"I wish she'd stayed that way," Quistis muttered. "You should have heard the way she talked about Sorcery, like everyone who used it was evil. She even used Nida as an example!"

"But, why?!" Rinoa asked. "Nida's a sweetheart!" She suddenly felt like she had to defend Nida.

Quistis nodded, a little confused. "Yes, but Tevedes doesn't think so."

"Tevedes....?" Rinoa trailed off.

"That's General Tsepeth's first name," the blonde answered.

"Tevedes....." Rinoa trailed off.

"Anyway, she said that if she gets elected, she's going to close Galbadia Garden because we're in league with the 'evil Sorcerers and Sorceresses' as an organization. I need to speak with Squall and Laguna about it."

"She can't just close the Garden!" Fujin exclaimed hotly. "It has nothing to do with the governing body of Galbadia."

"Well, even if she does get elected, which I doubt.... The Delings have come a long way with that country. Anyway, she won't get elected, but if she does, the Church of Hyne just won't let her get away with magical persecution."

"But, what about the Archbishop?" Rinoa asked. "I know that the Galbadian First Church didn't always agree with the Church of Hyne. I mean, it wasn't a Holy War or anything, but do you think that Archbishop Locke will agree with this General Tsepeth?"

Fujin frowned. "Archbishop Locke died of a heart attack eight months ago."

"Oh..." Rinoa trailed off. "My Mother and Father weren't believers in the Catholic Church, but the Archbishop had been over to our house quite a few times. He was a very nice man."

"Yeah, he was..." Quistis trailed off. "Now, they've elected a new Archbishop... A woman by the name of Magdalene. Nobody knows where her stance is on this. I guess we'll find out."

Rinoa shrugged. "You don't seem to think that the General has much of a chance of winning this election, so what are you so worried about?"

Quistis sighed. "I guess just covering all bases." She paused. "What were you talking about when I came in? I overheard something about you hearing your father's voice...?"

"Oh...." Rinoa sighed. "I had this dream that just isn't sitting right with me. I guess now that my mind can work again, it wants to be creative and play tricks on me. I had a strange dream about a clock with disappearing numbers. I also heard my father's voice, and felt a hand on my shoulder. But, it wasn't my father's hand, or Squall's... And, yet.... It still felt familiar."

"Who was it?" Quistis asked.

"I don't know," the Asian girl answered. "Before I could turn around, I woke up. But, it felt so real." She laughed nervously. "I don't even know why we're talking about this. It doesn't matter." She looked at Quistis. "So, tell me what Tevedes Tsepeth looks like."

Quistis frowned. "Strange. She was dressed in military gear, and it was all black. In fact, she had no colour to her whatsoever. The only colour was these bands of yellow on her arms. Oooh, the creepiest thing was her eyes. She had no irises, and I don't remember her blinking once!"

"Yikes!" Rinoa mused. "No irises? That must have looked creepy."

"How is that even possible?" Fujin asked.

Quistis shrugged. "How is it possible that she looked like she bathed in bleach, or her bodyguard's hair looked like metal, or one of her people seemed to appear right out of the shadows? Just a bunch of fucking bigoted creeps."

"Well, from your description, I hope I never meet her..." Rinoa trailed off. "So, how are things for you and Xu?"

The three women started talking about casual things, until Laguna bustled into the room. "Here are three of my favourite ladies!" His eyes swept over Rinoa. "It's sooooo good to see you awake at last, Rinoa!" He quickly got her in a tight hug, which just caused Rinoa to laugh. "You hug to hard, Laguna!"

"Oh, man! I'm sorry!" He held her out at arm's length, and examined her. "The highlights are very pretty. You look so like Julia."

"Dad...." Squall trailed off, rolling his stormy blue eyes as he sauntered into the room with Nida beside him. He crossed his arms over the long sleeved black shirt he was wearing. His dark brown vinyl pants squeaked with his movement, and the chains and zippers on them jingled. "Could you be a little less embarrassing?"

Nida put a hand on Squall's arm, just shaking his head. "Rinoa, you look good. You look good."

Rinoa blushed slightly, waving her hands. "Please, you're going to give me a swelled head!"

Squall ignored her, turning to Quistis. "Xu said that you saw Tevedes Tsepeth..."

"Squall!" Laguna exclaimed, moving across the room like a wave, and stopping beside his son. He draped an arm over Squall's shoulders, patting one of them. "We can discuss that later! Right now, I want to have breakfast with the lovely Rinoa Heartilly. You must be starving for real food!"

"Actually, I am..." Rinoa trailed off.

"Oh, President Loire..." Fujin trailed off.

"LAGUNA!" He cried. "You must be deaf."

"Fine! Laguna, we hired some more security, booking them for the 20th when you have your party."

"Party?" Nida asked blankly.

"Oh, nice way to ruin the surprise, Fujin!" Laguna chided playfully. "I'm having a big shindig on the 20th. It is mostly a stupid Presidential backslap of financial supporters and the muckity mucks of Esthar and other countries, but it's also a super fun Christmas party! You know, to celebrate that we're all still going on...."

"Sounds fun!" Rinoa exclaimed. "Oh... I don't want to assume that I'm invited or anything!"

"Assume, assume!" Laguna exclaimed, squeezing Squall's shoulder. "This is a party to celebrate, to bring friends and family closer!" He winked. "You know, you could have been my daughter."

"That's so creepy..." Nida trailed off.

"Hey now, Nida! And, I just want to say that I don't want someone drinking too much, because he knows that he can't hold his liquor, and he'll do something he'll regret. Not naming names."

Squall just gave his father a silent glare while Nida laughed under his breath.

Rinoa laughed. "Yeah, you better watch out. He might slap you."

Squall just reddened, looking at the toes of his black boots. "Can we drop this?"

Laguna gave Squall another squeeze, ignoring the angry look in his son's eyes. "So, let's go have breakfast!" Suddenly, Almasy began to whimper. "Well, if she's hungry, I'll leave that to you, Fujin."


Edea shivered, and turned as she heard Cid speaking to her. "Oh, I'm sorry. What were you saying?"

"I was asking if you would prefer La Circe for breakfast, or that place that has the fruit bar?"

"Oh..." Edea sighed, stopping in front of a newsstand. "The Deling Globe, please."

"Edea, what's bothering you?" Cid asked, snuggling into his jacket as a cool wind passed through the streets of Esthar.

"Just a feeling...." She smiled, paying for her newspaper. "It's silly." She tucked the paper under the arm of her purple velvet coat. "How about the fruit. A nice fresh slice of cantaloupe would be nice."

"Your feelings are never wrong," Cid pointed out, taking his wife's hand. "Tell me."

"Well, Rinoa Heartilly woke up."

"Yeah, I know. It's great!" Cid exclaimed. He frowned when Edea didn't seem happy. "Aren't you glad that Rinoa woke up?"

"Oh, of course I am, Cid!" Edea exclaimed as they turned a corner. "I mean, it's wonderful. But, ever since, I've had this... feeling, like I said. I can't really put my finger on it."

"What sort? Seems bad." Cid led Edea into Spira, the restaurant they'd decided on.

"Well, that's just it..." Edea trailed off. "I don't know. It started before Rinoa woke up, but it's changed.... I mean, before... I had this worry... Oh," she waved her hand. "Never mind. It sounds stupid."

"Tell me..." Cid demanded. "Please don't keep it all bottled up if it bothers you..." Cid insisted as they sat down.

Edea ran her hands through her loose mahogany hair. "Well, I sort of had this feeling like Ultimecia was still around. And," she held up a hand when Cid opened his mouth. "I didn't say anything because I didn't want to worry you about something I'll probably be afraid of until the end of time. But, when Rinoa woke up..."

"Did you feel Ultimecia stronger?!" Cid sputtered, taking off his gloves.

"No, and that's the point. I felt something totally different. And, I don't know what it is."

"Are you saying that Rinoa is a Sorceress again?" Cid asked, looking at the menu.

"No," Edea answered, looking at the menu as well. "No, she's not. I wouldn't be confused about something like that. I would surely know that she was one. I mean, I can feel Nida from a mile away, so I would know if she were one. No.... but, it's something I can't ignore."

"Do you want to skip breakfast and go to the Palace?"

Edea shook her head, her perfect face brightening. "No! I want to have breakfast with my wonderful, understanding husband."

"Oh, thank you, Edea..." He smiled.

Edea opened her paper, looking at it. "God, I hope Tevedes Tsepeth doesn't get elected."

"I've never even heard of this woman, and I used to have fairly good ties with the Galbadian Army officials when I was Headmaster. I wonder where she came from...?"

"I hope she goes back..." Edea muttered. "She's just mongering fear to get votes. It's so pathetic of her to use people's deepest beliefs, like in Hyne or their own religion, to spread a message of blind ignorance."

"I'm sure that the Galbadian people will see through her."

"I hope you're right, dear..." Cid whispered. They ordered, and Cid sipped some coffee while Edea read the paper.

"Oh, my...." She trailed off.

"What is it?" Cid asked.

"We should go to this!" Edea exclaimed. She read from the article. "The new star in the Deling City opera circuit, Fermata, will be giving an anticipated concert next week at the Harcoure Opera House in Deling City. It is heralded as a social event, seeing as how the mysterious Fermata has never appeared in public. Attention has been given to the phenomenal singer after her debut album, Stitch In Time, skyrocketed up the classical charts out of nowhere." She turned the page. "I wonder if we can still get tickets. The CD was beautiful."

"I heard the Squall and Nida wanted to go. We'll ask them."

Edea laughed. "There's also an article about Laguna's party in here."

"That should be interesting to say the least," Cid pointed out. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine!" Edea exclaimed. "I feel a lot better having talked to you about it, actually..." She trailed off. "I know it's foolish to think that Ultimecia could come back. She's finally gone."

"It's natural for you to be scared, Edea. Ultimecia was horrible, and all powerful."

"And, she's dead..." Edea trailed off. "Thank God."

"So, do you want to talk to Rinoa Heartilly? Maybe if you're close to her, you'll be able to get this premonition out of your mind..."

"Yeah, you're right. And, look at me, Cid... I promised we would have a nice breakfast, together, alone... And, I start rambling like a scared girl."

"You're being cautious. And, you're usually right. And, even if we're discussing something you don't like, it's nice just to be alone..." He reached across the table and squeezed Edea's hand.

She smiled, then turned her head to look at the window, people-watching. She narrowed her eyes when she thought she saw something familiar. It was two people walking past. Since Edea hadn't really been paying attention to them, it was just really a smear of colour from their clothes. One was wearing all black, and the other was wearing black with something that was red, possibly a shirt. The movement was familiar to her, as if she knew the people. She wondered if it was someone from the Palace. She also saw something gold. Hair? She narrowed her eyes, putting her fingers to her indigo painted mouth thoughtfully. One of them was tall, and the other short. A man and his wife, maybe. Edea knew a lot of people. She shivered as power moved down her spine.

"Edea?" Cid reached across the table, touching Edea's hand as he looked at her over the rim of his glasses. "What is it?"

She laughed under her breath, turning away from the window. "Just thought I saw something."

"Are we still going to this, Squall?" Nida asked, showing his lover the paper. "Fermata's really good."

"Yeah, we'll still go." Squall gave Nida a warm gaze, which seemed like a rarity for him, and caused Rinoa to smile distantly. Even though Squall seemed much colder than he had been, he was almost like a different person with Nida, like the rest of them weren't even there.

"Who's Fermata?" Rinoa asked.

"She's an opera singer," Laguna answered through a mouthful of bagel. "Kind of appeared out of nowhere."

"Opera?" Rinoa asked, cocking her head. "I haven't been to the opera in so long..." She trailed off. "Oh! I was supposed to go on a date with this guy before Seifer and Zell came to my place..." She sighed. "I wonder if he thinks I dumped him?" She frowned. "I never did get to wear that dress..."

"I'll lend you the CD," Nida said. "Her voice is really quite fascinating."

"Thanks!" Rinoa exclaimed.

"So, when are you guys leaving for vacation?" Laguna asked, still with food in his mouth, addressing Squall and Nida.

"God, can you please not talk with your mouth full?" Kiros asked, shooting Laguna a look as he spooned some grapefruit into his mouth.

Laguna glowered at Kiros, swallowing his food. "There!" He exclaimed. "So? When are you leaving?"

"Tomorrow, whenever we get up..." Nida trailed off.

"So, have you decided where you're going?" Quistis asked.

"Bunch of places," Squall answered, drinking some coffee.

Nida rolled his eyes. "Dollet so Squall can meet my parents, Deling for the Opera, and Timber for the Triple Triad Tournament."

Rinoa looked up from her food. "You're going to Deling and Timber?"

Squall nodded. "Yay... Dollet should be fun."

"I think you'll like my father," Nida answered lowly, leaning towards Squall. "He's just as cold as you are."

Squall made a face, then noticed Rinoa was looking at them. "What?"

"Can....?" She shook her head. "No, never mind."

"Out with it," Squall snapped.

"I was going to ask if you could give me a lift when you leave, too. I mean, I assume that you're taking an airship of some sort, so it's not like I would be in the way. I want to go to Deling, to see my house, and to see the Forest Owls in Timber.... It's been so long."

Squall frowned, looking over at Nida. "You'd be the one flying...."

"It doesn't bother me. I mean... Timber should be a madhouse... We might have to try to get you an extra room..."

Rinoa nodded. "If you can't, I can stay with a friend. And, you guys would be more than welcome to stay at the mansion instead of a Hotel in the city..."

Squall just frowned, and Laguna nudged him. "Squall, don't be such a sourpuss. Let Rinoa come along. It's not like she'd be tagging along with you all the time."

Squall's eyes trailed to his father, and he opened his mouth to retort, but Laguna got there before him.

"And, don't say anything insulting. Rinoa's not stupid... She'll let you guys have enough time alone to have all the sex you want!"

Squall slapped his forehead with his palm, while Quistis choked on her coffee. Nida couldn't help but laugh when he met Rinoa's gaze.

The Asian woman raised her gloved right hand. "I solemnly swear on my life, Squall Leonhart, that I will not get in the way of your bedroom business..." She blushed, giggling. "You never used to mind." She became serious. "I just want to go home... To be around the things that used to belong to my parents."

"Fine..." Squall muttered, giving a helpless look to Nida. "Fine."

"Where did you find her?" Pallas asked, looking at the sullen girl that was sitting in the chair at the opposite end of their long conference table.

"I was taking my usual evening walk, and she was on the beach... I'm surprised she didn't freeze to death," General Tsepeth answered. "I can only... Wonder how she ended up this way."

"Well, the blood dried all over her clothes could be a hint," replied a woman with long hair the colour that the blood on the clothes would have been originally. It was done in long braids, which were strewn all over her shoulders. The trickled tear tattoo just below her eye crinkled with mirth.

"Your jest is duly noted, Schuld..." Tevedes trailed off, folding her hands in front of her, elbows resting on the table. "This could prove to be useful as a bargaining chip against Laguna Loire of Esthar."

"Bargaining chip?!" Pallas asked, her metallic hair glinting as she swung around to face the pale General. "Bargain...? This doesn't sound like you, Tevedes."

Tevedes held up her snowy hands. "Pallas, settle down," she commanded in a voice that demanded attention. Tevedes's irisless eyes trailed across the room, past Pallas and Schuld, who were watching the girl, who was just staring at the floor, barely coherent. They didn't even bother asking her where she came from, because she wouldn't have been able to give them an answer, and they already knew. "Kronos... Please take our lovely guest to find Doc. She'll fix her up."

A wispy woman stood from her bent position beside a dark-clad woman sitting in front of some papers. "But, Tevedes... Shouldn't I help with the speech...?" Her low, commanding, almost booming voice filled the room with sensual vibrations, the tone of her rich voice surprising compared to her slight frame and girlish looks with bright blue eyes and neatly pinned back copper coloured hair.

"That's covered. This is more important!"

"Yes..." Kronos trailed off, putting her glasses on the top of her head. "Come on, little girl... Schuld, can you help me... She doesn't seem to be able to walk well, and I'll need some muscle."

Schuld's full height was as impressive as the Amazon Pallas. "Fine. You know.... I can't wait to see President Loire's face."

"This will really be the leverage we need against the likes of Edea Kramer and that idiot Loire..." Schuld murmured, flipping her long braids over her shoulder, which was covered in tribal tattoo patterns.

"They mean nothing..." Tevedes murmured, steepling her fingers under her chin. "Only Nida Nomura is our concern."

"Want me to relay any message to the others?" Schuld asked, already dragging the nearly passed out girl towards the door, the crunchy, bloodstained clothes riding up the girl's small frame.

"No, their busy with other things. Just find Doc, and tell Tempest to start getting to work."

"Will do..." Schuld made a small salute, and dragged their new treasure behind Kronos, who led the way.

"This could be dangerous, Tevedes...." Pallas trailed off.

"I agree," the dark woman murmured, her voice slithering quietly through the room. "Headmaster Trepe already seems suspicious of you. You're walking on eggshells."

"Headmaster Trepe only cares about her stupid school, and the whores of magic it produces."

Pallas snorted under her breath, the weapons on her body making noises with her motions. "Yeah..."

Tevedes rolled her white eyes. "You have to do what I say, so it doesn't really matter."

The shadows in the room seemed to grow longer, moving over them all like nightly fingers. "You just love to throw your weight around, don't you?" The woman in black asked, marking a few things off on a sheet.

"It's my privilege as... General."

"Do you really think you'll win?" Pallas asked, leaning against the table.

"That's something that I don't even question," Tevedes said lowly, the shadows completely covering the room as she laughed lowly in her throat.

Rinoa sighed, looking out one of the big picture windows of the Esthar Palace Library, watching the cool wind ruffle the clothes of the people below. There were no trees in Esthar to gauge and sort of breeze. After breakfast with everyone, Squall and Nida had left. Rinoa had wanted to work out details of when they were leaving, but just figured to do it later. She sort of wanted to be alone. After being alone in her unresponsive body for so long, it was kind of draining to be surrounded by so many voices, so much humanity. Rinoa thought it best if she did it slowly, didn't tax herself. So, she came to the library. Books had always been a refuge for Rinoa, even when she was a child. Reading had been her way to deal with Julia's death, had been her way to learn about the world outside Deling City, outside the Caraway mansion. It had also been her solace when she and Squall had gone through tough times, and now it seemed that books, once again, would be the logical choice to help her once more, to make her feel familiar in her own skin again. At that moment, Rinoa was curled up in a very comfortable chair made of soft velvet that seemed to sink against her weight like a soft marshmallow. There was a large book in her lap of Historical Fashion and Clothing, which also went into the roles of the wearers, and where each style originated from. The pictures were very lovely, and gave Rinoa new fashion ideas. She knew that people always didn't like her choice in wardrobe, and she'd gotten some flack from classmates in Deling, or her friends in Forest Owls, or even people at the Garden, for some of her fashion choices, but she didn't care.

Rinoa began thinking of going to Timber with Squall and Nida. She got the distinct impression that Squall was fairly ticked that she wanted to go, but she just mentally brushed it off. It's not like she'd be following them around everywhere. She had things to do, people she wanted to see. Mostly, Rinoa just wanted to see things she took for granted, take in life, because she'd been so close to not experiencing it anymore. She wanted to see her old house, to see where General Caraway was buried. She was even looking forward to the Opera of Fermata. She looked at the CD case that Nida had leant her. The woman on the front was very elegant, with long black hair that fell obviously below her waist, even though she was in a sitting position. It looked like she was sitting in the crook of hands of a clock. It would make sense, since the CD was titled Stitch In Time. It caused Rinoa to frown, looking at the picture. It reminded her of her dream, with the odd face of the clock, the illuminated map, and the disappearing numbers.

As Rinoa turned the page of the book, her hand moved up and touched her shoulder, the same shoulder that the hand had rested upon in her dream. If she concentrated hard enough, she could still feel the ghostly touch. She sighed, closing her eyes and resting the back of her head against the soft fabric of the armchair. "Am I going crazy?" She asked herself out loud. "Maybe my brain was fried." After a few moments of silence, she slowly opened one coffee-coloured eye, feeling something in the room with her. However, it was empty. Most people around the Palace were working now, seeing as how it was the middle of the morning, and she was totally alone. But, in her heart, Rinoa knew that couldn't be so. Something tugged at her. It was that same strange feeling she'd had after Nida had left when she'd woken up. Almost like her Sorceress, Angel Wing powers had returned, but not quite. It was more distant, less like a burning pearl that had grown in the walls of her heart, but more like an essence of herself, filling more of her body with something that felt more familiar, and less oppressive than her Sorcery had felt to her.

Rinoa turned around in the chair, seeing if there was anybody behind her, but there was nobody. She slowly closed the book, the heavy cover making a snapping noise as she did. She stood, and put the book where she'd been sitting. Her powder blue duster and black dress swung around her legs as she spun around, feeling that there was definitely something in the air. For a moment, Rinoa wished that she had a Guardian Force junctioned, so she could cast Scan in the room. She stood completely still for the longest moment of her life, but this feeling didn't go away, nor did it move in her. It was still in the room, not moving. Rinoa slowly let out her breath, taking step forward, towards the corner of the room where the energy seemed the strongest. Briefly, the Asian woman wondered if she was in another dream, but knew it wasn't so.

"What is this....?" Rinoa asked, her voice slightly cracking as she cocked her head in confusion. She shakily reached out one gloved hand, touching the air in front of her, which seemed to make something in her vibrate and sing. It wasn't painful, just thoroughly confusing, which was frightening to Rinoa. So much had happened to her that was scary or confusing, so she just didn't want that. Rinoa gasped, jumping back when she felt something almost tangible in front of her. It caused her to stumble in her square-heeled boots, and she had to grab the velvet chair to keep from falling backwards onto her ass. She steadied herself on shaky legs, the hand that had touched whatever was there tingling and zinging. She brought her hand to her chest, and touched the silver ring on the chain around her neck. It was a habit, a reassuring gesture to herself, and it seemed to calm her in a silly, superstitious sort of way.

Feeling brave, Rinoa reached out her hand again, expecting the same sort of gossamer resistance she'd had earlier. But, it never came. It seemed that after she'd touched whatever it had been, it had vanished. Rinoa waved her hand in the space, furrowing her brow in confusion, her pretty face scrunched in thought. Something in her felt a little stronger. "It's gone...?" She wondered aloud.

You did well, Rinoa....

She gasped when a whisper filled the room, and also seemed to be made of nothing. It was like it only existed in her mind. This voice caused her to totally lose her balance, and she fell backwards onto the rug, landing on her ass.

"Ow!" She exclaimed, looking around wildly, her hair whipping around her. But, there was nothing. The voice seemed to have not existed at all. She put a hand to her forehead, which felt damp from sweat. She laughed nervously to herself. "Rinoa, I think you've overexerted yourself..." She nodded, assuring herself. She'd just got overworked. At least, that's what she hoped had happened...

"Hey, Squall, I put Vivi down in the Chocobo Ranch, or whatever the call it..." Nida trailed off, coming into Squall's bedroom. After breakfast, they had disappeared, going their separate ways from everyone. Rinoa had wanted some time to herself, and Quistis and Xu wanted to discuss things with Laguna. Things namely meant Tevedes Tsepeth, and Nida hadn't really wanted to stick around for that. He knew that Tsepeth greatly affected him, and she could be a real thorn in the side of not only Esthar, but of Nida personally, because of his powers, but he didn't want to think about that. If the General won the election, which both Laguna and Quistis had assured him she would not, he would worry then.

Squall came out of the bathroom, wearing a long black robe that even covered his feet. He put his hands on his hips and sighed, his eyes stormy as he looked at Nida.

"What?" Nida asked, sitting on the edge of the bed. "You've seemed pissy ever since breakfast. Is it because of Rinoa?"

Squall huffed angrily. "She's really putting a damper on my plans for our vacation."

"She only wants a ride, Squall..." Nida crossed his arms. "And, quite frankly, I don't understand why you're being so cold with Rinoa. I mean, she just woke up from a long coma. Cut her some slack..."

Squall frowned. He wanted to say 'Nida, something in me is afraid that she'll come between us, that something will happen where her feelings for me will come back', but didn't. Nida, I'm afraid maybe that since you're being so nice to her, she'll want you, she'll feel attached to you, and try to take you away from me. He just sighed, staring at his feet. Nida, if that happened, I don't know what I would do. I might not show it, but I need you. I... I love you.

Nida just raised his eyebrows when Squall didn't say anything. "And, she's not going to ruin our vacation. We're still going to have fun. Well.. I don't know how fun meeting my family is, but the rest'll be good. We'll go to the opera in Deling, and maybe hit a few clubs." Nida smiled, his lips turning up gently. "And, I know you can't wait until the Tournament in Deling. I noticed you bought another Triple Triad magazine."

Squall looked at Nida from under hooded lids. "I'm allowed to have a couple vices. Besides, I want to win your card."

"Yeah, well..." Nida rolled his eyes. "I'm sure most people will be like... 'Who?' when comparing me to the other cards..." He counted them on his fingers. "Let's see... From the million times you told me, the People 2nd Series will have Ultimecia, Adel, Dr. Odine, Headmaster Cid, Ellone, The Queen of Cards, Lillith Almasy, Julia Heartilly, Xu, Iudicium and me. I'm the least known person there."

"You're also the sexiest..." Squall trailed off. "And, nice to see you actually pay attention to me." He suddenly smiled. "They're also releasing three other series... A Places one, a Magic one and a Technology one."

Nida marvelled at Squall's smile. "For something as simple as cards, you get awfully excited about it... Like a kid at Christmas." Nida suddenly frowned. "You think you could get an extra Julia Heartilly card... You know, for Rinoa?"

"I suppose..." Squall sighed. "Can we please not talk about Rinoa anymore?"

"Fine," Nida answered, leaning back slightly on the bed. "Just as long as we don't talk about General Tsepeth. I see that look in your eye."

Squall waved his hand. He pushed down any worry that he did feel about Tevedes. Nida could handle himself. Nida didn't need Squall to be his Knight, although the scarred SeeD would have offered it in an instant. "Fine."

"So, what do you want to talk about?" Nida asked.

Squall smirked, opening the robe to expose his nude body to Nida. "Fuck talking."

Nida raised his eyebrows in interest. "Oh, Squall.. How sweet. You even wrapped it for me." Nida pulled Squall's body against him, pushing the black robe aside as he buried his face against the lean planes of Squall's chest. Squall began to straddle Nida as his lover completely pulled the robe off. He used his knees against Nida's chest to push the Asian man back on the bed. Nida lay back on the bed, looking up at Squall through his ebony bangs. Squall's hair was also in his eyes, and Nida just wanted to stare at him forever. It seemed like the right time to say 'I love you' to Squall, for he felt such a close connection to the other man at that moment, so close that it filled his entire body, so that the feeling was brimming over, that it was causing Nida pain. He wanted to scream it out for the whole world to hear, but more importantly, for Squall to hear. But, something made Nida forget about saying it. Maybe it was the slight fear that Squall didn't feel the same way yet. He knew that Squall cared about him, or else he wouldn't be here, but caring and love, and the type of love that Nida was feeling, were totally different things. Even if Nida hadn't told Squall he loved him, he was happy, more than happy, just being with him.

Squall straddled Nida's waist, his hands working on removing the Asian pilot's belt. He bent over, his knees digging into the bed on either side of Nida's hips, and kissed his lover's earlobe gently. Squall purred like a cat when Nida's fingers gently massaged a trail down Squall's spine. In the back of his mind, Squall considered it odd that he wasn't afraid of giving his body so intimately to Nida, but was afraid to say 'I love you' to him. He knew that Nida wouldn't reject him for saying it, but there was definitely something tangible preventing him from uttering the words. Maybe it was that everyone he'd said it to ended up hurting him. Ellone, Rinoa.... And, if Nida had ended up hurting him, even if he didn't mean to, it would devastate Squall. Part of him had promised himself that he would never fall in love again, and just saying the words made him feel both very scared and anticipatory. He wondered what Nida would say....

Nida's hands moved into Squall's hair, and brushed the shaggy locks out of his lover's oceanic eyes. He knew something was on Squall's mind. Hell, something was always on Squall's mind. Nida pulled Squall's body down slightly, so it was laying completely on top of Nida's own. He just held Squall against him, felt Squall's breath against his cheek, felt Squall breathe against him, felt Squall's heartbeat. Squall finally looped Nida's belt out of his pants, and raised his own body slightly so he could strip down the other man.

Squall looked at Nida through the curtain of his auburn hair, his cheeks beginning to get tinted pink with lust. His hands trailed down Nida's chest, touching, revelling in his flesh. There was so much that he could only say with his hands because something in his throat prevented any words from coming out. When Nida's hands moved down Squall's spine, tracing the line of his spinal cord, Squall couldn't help the long purr that escaped him, which only deepened as Nida rolled them over, Squall's limbs uselessly wrapped around Nida's body, or splayed on the mattress as his body just began to decide to disconnect from Squall's brain and only respond to the commands of Nida's hands. Squall closed his eyes as the hands on his body became all he could really coherently think about.

Nida smirked at the dazed look on Squall's face. He'd seen that expression hundreds of times, but it never really ceased to amaze him. It was an expression that showed a great deal of vulnerability, that was very unlike Squall. Nida pushed Squall's body up the mattress, the sheets bunching and following as they were caught under Squall's weight. Nida then raised Squall's hips as his teeth began a nibbling trail down the center of Squall's torso. Squall's hands moved into the now rumpled sheets, his hands curling and uncurling, gripping and ungripping the material. When Squall felt Nida's breath on his now erect penis, he groaned lowly, more like a growl, his head thrown back so that the tendons of his neck were pulled taut. As Nida's mouth engulfed Squall's erection, Nida's powers engulfed the rest of Squall's body, constricting around his heard like a vice. It was like spiders, like spindly, invisible hands, touching past his skin into his blood, his muscles, his bone, his soul.

It was like this every time with Nida. It was like the control that Nida had learned to gain just rapidly vanished. The outlet for release was Squall's body, and because they'd been away from each other for an extended period of time, Squall really noticed the power that now covered him like a hot, burning blanket. And, the power had gotten stronger. Was Nida really as powerful and frightening as General Tsepeth wanted to accuse him of? Even though the power was real, hot and like it's own entity in the room, which was also rising from the body heat of both men, Squall didn't feel in danger, and he'd been around enough Sorcery to know what tainted power felt like.

Squall sprawled out, his body seeming to sink into the mattress like it was made of marshmallow as Nida's tongue and mouth moved around his cock, and all he wanted was to feel like this forever, his body connected intimately to Nida's, the warm Sorcery in the air tingling every nerve ending, and everything seeming a million miles away from them. Squall hoped, more than believed, that it would always stay this way.

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