The New Flesh
By Scarlet Fever
Laguna wiped some sweat off his brow as he gulped in some fresh air. The smell of flowers was a nice change from the smell of death and sickness that filled the Hospital. He closed his eyes wearily, all his muscles sore. The flowers made him think of Raine. They smelled like her. White lilies. "I miss you," Laguna whispered. "I could really use your help with our son right now. I don't know what to say... what to do....?" He sighed.
"Hmm?" He turned to see Xu standing behind him.
"Who are you talking to?"
"Oh, nobody.... Myself," he answered. "Heard anything from Seifer?"
"Well, seems that there is a bunch of stuff in the water besides Xiphias poison. We've been giving people the cure according to his instructions, but some people aren't being affected by it, and still dying."
"So, is there any doubt that this was the Inaudax...?"
"None," Xu answered. "Strategy is my strong point. I mean, I can plan for anything, prepare for any battle, but not this.... Not this...."
Laguna banged the back of his head against the brick wall. "It's one thing for them to target us, to fight against us, but all these innocent people...?"
"I know," Xu answered quietly. "You know, I couldn't help overhearing some of your conversation... With yourself, I mean. You were talking to Raine, weren't you?"
Laguna smiled wistfully. "Yeah. Just being here, smelling the flowers, it makes me think of her. I should have...." He stopped, then looked at Xu. "I'm sure you don't want to hear an old man's ramblings."
"It's okay," Xu assured. "You were asking her about Squall....."
"I don't know what to do. I just want to slap him, slap him back into reality."
"Squall's a very stubborn man. I don't know that he'd listen to you even if you made him."
"How many dead are there?" Laguna asked after a period of silence.
"We don't have a final tally," she said, rubbing her eyes, her voice reserved. "But, right now, I'd guess at least a hundred."
"God..... This is going to devastate Winhill."
"We'll do what we can," Xu said, patting Laguna's shoulder. "We brought in some food and water reserves, and we'll try to work on flushing out the poison."
"We're lucky that Seifer has really taken charge of this."
Xu set her mouth in a straight line. "I wasn't always one of Seifer's biggest fans, and we gave each other a hard time during his multiple SeeD tests. But...." She looked at some blooming flowers, shielding her eyes from the sun. "I'm glad I was proven wrong."
Laguna balled his hands into fists. "I just feel... Like we aren't doing anything. It's been three days since we came here, and what have we done? People are still dying, and we aren't any closer to defeated Tevedes."
"Laguna, more people would have died if we didn't come. And.... we'll find Tevedes, and Xiphias. I know we will." She squeezed his shoulder. "I'm going to go check on the patients. You should eat and get some rest."
He nodded, but remained where he was, even after Xu had long since disappeared back into the hospital. He just watched the wind, cooling because of the dusk, move through the grass and flower fields. The smell of white lilies filled his nose again, and made him sad. "Raine... Kiros... I wish you could help me." Laguna pushed his body off the wall, and felt a breeze run over his cheek and through his hair. It felt more like an insect than the wind, and he touched the side of his face, which tickled from whatever had touched him. He blinked a few times as his palm pressed to his cheek, his brow furrowing. He just shook his head, and made his way towards the Hotel as the sun began to dip over the horizon.
Xiphias smiled, watching him go. She'd been standing right beside Xu and Laguna the entire time, on the other side of the building's corner, and they hadn't even noticed her. Laguna hadn't even noticed when she'd touched his face.
"You think that you can purge my poison, Mr. Almasy?" Xiphias asked, leaning against the wall, staring up at the tree leaves which were filtering out the rays of the setting sun. "What if I turn it up a notch?" Her grin widened, and she pulled a couple of bottles out of the pockets of her lab coat. She went into the Hospital, nodding at the nurses and orderlies, who smiled at her, thinking her a doctor that would come to save them all from this mystery disease. She stopped beside the bed of a small child, who was coughing in her sleep.
Xiphias tucked some of her hair behind her ears as she leaned forward, her grin hard, like a razor, as she regarded this sickly child. She used her teeth to pull the cork stopper out of the bottle of poison. When opened, the bottle gave off a sour smell, but it wasn't noticeable among the smell of death that was blatant in the room. Xiphias then moved to pour the venom into the IV bag, but stopped, her hand shaking before a drop could even fall in. She slowly looked around, her hackles rising. Someone was watching her. She looked around, but there were only the sick, oblivious in their beds, and the nurses, who weren't paying Xiphias any attention. Her eyes darted around the room again, seeing nothing. She just sort of shrugged, and began to tip the poison again, but stopped again.
That time, it felt like someone had touched her. Xiphias put the stopper back in the bottle, then hid the bottle in the deep pockets of her lab coat. She casually walked through the room again, but as she did, looked around. The touch had felt magical, and she briefly wondered if Tevedes was trying to contact her.
Xiphias's back went ramrod straight. She'd heard the whisper in her ear, but she didn't know where it came from. The voice had been such a quiet whisper, but booming loud as well. The voice hadn't sounded familiar, but Xiphias knew who it was. He was watching her. It caused an actual tremor of fear to move through her ancient body. In a one-on-one battle against Nida, she would lose, and she knew it. Nida was growing very powerful, but he was also trained to fight physically, something that wasn't Xiphias's strong suit. But, she did have 4,000 years of experience on her side.
"Don't hide from me like a coward, little boy. If you want to fight me, do it like a man," she whispered under her breath as she left the hospital, vanishing into the shadows. "I'll be waiting for you."
Zell turned on the lamp beside the bed in the Hotel room he was sharing with Seifer. He cocked his head, seeing the other blonde slumped in a chair, sleeping, his head against the table just in front of the keyboard of his laptop, which was connected with the Winhill Hospital's network.
"Seifer...?" Zell called.
The screen had gone black, the computer just as asleep as Seifer was. Zell couldn't help but grin. He ran his hand gently through Seifer's closely-cropped blonde hair, and kissed his cheek, doing this all very subtly, not wanting to wake Seifer up. Zell knew his lover needed the sleep, because he hadn't been getting much in the past few days. "At least you're getting more sleep than Squall," Zell muttered, quietly taking off his shoes and coat. Zell picked up a book, and curled up on the bed, absorbing himself in the quiet activity, letting Seifer sleep.
After a good hour or so, Zell looked up when he heard Seifer moving. "Good morning," Zell greeted.
"What time is it?" Seifer asked, yawning, and stretching his long arms over his head.
"Twenty to midnight," Zell answered after looking at his wristwatch.
"Oh...." Seifer grunted, standing up and stretching further. "Why didn't you wake me up?"
"Because you needed the sleep," Zell answered, turning the page, chuckling under his breath at a funny sentence. "You haven't gotten much in the past few days," the blonde continued as Seifer went into the bathroom.
"I can sleep after this whole thing is solved," Seifer muttered, his voice garbled. He came out of the bathroom, a toothbrush hanging from his mouth. "Did anything happen? Did they find Xiphias? How's the cure working?"
Zell put a bookmark in the book, then closed it. "Whoa, whoa. One question at a time. No, everything is about the same. No, Xiphias hasn't been seen, and the cure is working fine."
"Good," Seifer said, going back into the bathroom to finish brushing his teeth.
"And, no sign of Nida. But, Squall seems convinced that Nida came to him in Balamb and healed his gunshot wound."
Seifer turned out the bathroom light, stretching again. He smelled the shirt he was wearing, which was wrinkled because he'd slept in it. He pulled it off, which caused Zell to begin staring at him in interest. "Well, it's not a totally crazy idea. Maybe Nida is here, or was in Balamb, and he's just not showing himself, because he knows that Xiphias and the other Oracles are hanging around." He used the bedpost to gain balance as he pulled off one sock, then the other. "I'm just worried that Xiphias will try and raise the ante. I mean... She's got 4,000 years worth of medicine to work with... How would we ever begin to combat her if she decided to get creative?" Seifer asked, his brow crinkling as he thought aloud.
Zell rose to his knees, watching Seifer's abdominal muscles with rapt fascination, fringing on lust, as Seifer yawned again, stretching his arms over his head.
"God, my back...." Seifer moaned dramatically. "You shouldn't have let me fall asleep in a chair, Chicken Wuss."
"Why do you insist on calling me that?" Zell asked lazily, tracing the lines of Seifer's six pack with his index finger. He pushed the tip of his finger into Seifer's bellybutton.
"Because it makes you mad." Seifer looked down at Zell, who looked up, smiling enough to show his sharp canines.
"You know, most boyfriends wouldn't put up with constant abuse. I should leave you." Zell pulled on the front of Seifer's pants, so that the standing man's stomach was pressed to Zell's chin.
Seifer put his hands on the sides of Zell's face. "You wouldn't dare."
Zell bit into the soft flesh just under Seifer's bellybutton.
"Ow...." Seifer furrowed his brow. "That hurt."
"I'll stop then..." The tattooed blonde trailed off, reclining on the bed, his hand still gripping the lip of Seifer's pants. He gave a quick jerk, and pulled Seifer down on top of him, the scarred blonde's longer body completely covering Zell's.
Seifer grinned, settling his body between Zell's legs, pressing his hips against Zell's groin. He licked across Zell's lips before pushing his tongue into his lover's mouth. Their tongues moved slowly against each other, tasting each other, exploring the crevices of each other's mouths. Zell rocked his hips against Seifer's, the pressure of Seifer's weight against his pelvis causing delicious friction, causing Zell to grow hard, his erection pressing against the confines of his underwear and pants.
Seifer slowly broke their kiss apart, pulling his tongue out of Zell's mouth, pressing his lips against his lover's a few more times for good measure. He raised his body slightly, as far as Zell's strong embrace would let him. "I should probably get back to working on that...." He gestured with his head towards the computer.
"What more can you do?" Zell asked. "The cure is working. You can't bring people back from the dead anymore...."
Seifer frowned. "I know." He turned his head away, becoming silently thoughtful.
Zell cocked his head, catching Seifer's gaze. "You're feeling useless, aren't you?"
Seifer sighed, resting his weight on his forearms, which were on either side of Zell's shoulders. "To be so powerful, then to lose it.... Yeah, I feel useless."
"Maybe it's better this way," Zell pointed out, running his fingers up and down the bare line of Seifer's spine. "I mean.... Too much power is a bad thing. This way, we really are back to normal."
Seifer was silent, thinking about what Zell was saying. "I'm sure that Nida would agree with that." Seifer bowed his head, pressing his face into Zell's shirt. "All that dark power......"
"I'm sure he has a plan, and if he doesn't.... We'll think of something."
Seifer looked up at his lover, and rolled off him, laying on his side, propping himself up with his elbow. His pale green eyes were dark with worry. "Yeah, but what?" He began to sit up, but Zell did as well, and put his hand on Seifer's hip, preventing the taller blonde from rising.
Zell took Seifer's hand, and began kissing his fingertips, moving his mouth into Seifer's palm, down the inner side of his wrist, gently nibbling at the delicate flesh. Seifer just watched as Zell began kissing a trail down the inner line of Seifer's arm, occasionally sinking his teeth in on his way. When he got to the top of Seifer's arm, Zell's tongue made a detour, and he licked a wet trail down to Seifer's nipple, which became erect under the moist touch. Seifer slowly let out his breath, kissing Zell's hair as the blonde martial artist covered the small peak with his mouth, pressing his teeth into the flesh as his tongue gently pulled on the small piercings. Seifer grunted quietly when Zell moved his mouth away.
Zell began to move his tongue down Seifer's side, biting into the hard, muscular flesh when he got to Seifer's waist. As he nibbled and sucked at the curve of Seifer's hip, Zell's hand moved and began to unbuckle Seifer's belt. As Zell was doing this, Seifer's hand moved up Zell's legs, and he craned his neck, and began kissing Zell's bare feet. Zell sat up, looking over at Seifer, smirking as he pulled Seifer's pants off. He curled his legs under him, and slightly tilted Seifer's hips so they were at an angle that faced the ceiling more than it faced the bed. He continued to lick down the line of Seifer's hip, until he reached Seifer's groin muscles, the juncture between torso and leg. Zell's tongue moved down the line of Seifer's groin, until he was moving it up the side of Seifer's erection. His mouth slid off its path when Seifer yanked on Zell's legs, and then at his pants.
Zell blew up into his bangs as Seifer swallowed his erection as fast as it became exposed. As Seifer moved his mouth up and down on Zell's penis, he pushed his small lover's pants off, and then moved his hands to Zell's hips, taking as much of Zell's cock into his mouth as he could. Zell threw his head back, moaning, Seifer's erection pressing into his collarbone. Zell pitched his head forward, and brought the head of Seifer's penis into his mouth. While Seifer worked Zell's entire shaft with his mouth, Zell himself concentrated on Seifer's head, his tongue dancing over the sensitive flesh. Zell felt Seifer's hand move down to his testicles, stroking them in a way that caused Zell to whimper around Seifer's dick.
Seifer's fingers moved to the underside of Zell's scrotum, gently massaging the flesh, moving back more, parting Zell's legs with his hand as he dipped his fingers into the crack between Zell's buttocks. He touched around the puckered entry of Zell's lower intestines as he pulled his mouth off Zell's cock, which was now wet with Seifer's saliva, and Zell's own precum. As he fingered around Zell's asshole, he moved his tongue up and down over Zell's erection with lavish, moist strokes. He pressed the pad of his index finger to the opening, which caused the muscle to quiver against Seifer's touch.
Zell reared his mouth off his lover's erection, and panted out a few times as Seifer's fingertip poked into his body so quickly that it was as if Seifer hadn't touched him at all. Zell's mouth moved to Seifer's scrotum, pressing gentle kisses against the flesh. Zell then kissed his way back up Seifer's cock, which was hot with engorged blood. When Zell covered the head of Seifer's penis with his mouth, Seifer began suck on Zell's cock with fervour, and Zell returned the favour. One of Zell's hands moved over Seifer's scrotum, while the other moved in time with his mouth, giving Seifer oral pleasure.
Seifer's hands moved up and down the milky flesh of Zell's thighs, the muscles hard under his palms, the flesh goosebumped as he stroked the flesh. One of his hands moved up to Zell's hip, to the curve of his slender waist, which was still surprisingly girlish compared to the rest of his tight, muscled body. He curled his fingers into Zell's skin, which was so warm, so soft, so familiar. His other hand parted Zell's legs a little further, and he pushed the tip of his index finger into Zell's body again quickly, retracting it just as rapidly. Seifer repeated this, pushing the tip of his finger in and out of Zell's body, his mouth quickening its pace on Zell's hard erection. Seifer's quick little penetrations caused Zell to moan around Seifer's cock, and swallow to bypass his gag reflex. He moaned again, filling his mouth completely with Seifer's penis, until the head was brushing against the back of his throat.
Seifer had to pull his mouth off of Zell's cock when he felt tightness moving through his body, the familiar tightness of orgasm. Seifer came with a small wail, his panted breath washing over Zell's testicles. His whole body shivered, and the hand that was pressing into the curve of Zell's hip was shaking. Seifer curled the hand into a fist, and uncurled it again, barely feeling the digits as his orgasm moved through his body. Zell's tongue continued to work over Seifer's genitals, milking Seifer to the point where he was a panting mess.
Zell continued to suck Seifer's penis, even as it began to soften in his mouth. Seifer's breath against his balls, Seifer's lips moving over them, Seifer's hands still on his body, stroking over the curve of his hip, stroking over the line of his thigh, caused Zell's lips to quiver as he released Seifer's penis from his mouth. His toes curled, his back arched, his eyes rolled back in his head, his testicles contracted in the sac of his scrotum, and his whole body shuddered, like a taut string being plucked. Zell's body twisted, his lower half still facing Seifer, still being held by Seifer, while his upper torso writhed, and he rolled, facing the ceiling as he came, his back arching, breath shunting heavily out of his lungs. He felt Seifer's tongue moving up his cock as he came, his semen splattering on his own belly, and also onto Seifer's perfect face.
Zell's belly fluttered, and he gulped for air as his orgasm finished, feeling like he was drowning. He felt Seifer's tongue lap at the semen on Zell's stomach, and he slowly opened his icy eyes, which felt heavy with happy weariness. Seifer was sitting up, beside Zell's hip, using his fingers to wipe Zell's semen off his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. "Thanks for coming in my face," Seifer muttered sarcastically, licking the white fluid off his fingers.
Zell sat up, crawling slowly along the mattress towards his lover, his limbs feeling leaden. "You've never complained before," he purred, wrapping his arms around Seifer's broad, muscular shoulders. "You missed a spot." Zell licked across the line of Seifer's jaw, tasting the bitter remnant of his own semen on his tongue.
"Thanks...." Seifer turned his head, and kissed Zell soundly on the lips. "I guess it's okay that I'm stuck with you, Dincht."
Zell made a rude face at the taller blonde, and kissed him again, their lips moving very gently against each other. When he pulled away, Zell tucked his head under Seifer's chin, feeling the heat in Seifer's flesh, the sweat on his skin, the remains of Seifer's orgasm against his cheek. When Seifer's arms came around Zell's body, and they held each other like this, Zell's mind began to think, to hope that it would always be like this, that he and Seifer would be together until they died again. He would also think of what else they were going to do with their lives. What about a child? Would Seifer go back to school? Would they even survive Tevedes's wrath?
"Zell....?" Seifer whispered into his lover's ear when he noticed that the tattooed martial artist had become distant. "Something wrong?"
Zell looked up, kissing Seifer's chin. "No, not at all. Just thinking." He smiled to show that everything was fine, and slowly, reluctantly, disentangled himself from Seifer's embrace. "We should probably get down to the Hospital or something... Laguna and Xu might need our help."
"Right," Seifer slowly got up, his legs still shaky. "I'm just gonna have a shower first."
"Not without me, you won't," Zell said, his voice full of mischief. He stood, too, and followed Seifer into the bathroom.
Xiphias watched as yet another poor, idiotic soul was wheeled away on a stretcher in the direction of the hospital, which was already filling to the brim with Winhill residents who'd fallen victim to her poisons. Dusk was beginning to settle over the small botanical town, and Xiphias's bloodlust was beginning to rise. She couldn't go anywhere without that feeling that she was being watched. It had been five days since Laguna Loire, and his forces from Esthar, as well as Squall Leonhart and the rest of SeeD, had arrived, and Xiphias felt like she was under a microscope. Those fools had no idea she was there, but it wasn't them she cared about. She walked down a cobblestone road that led down to a quiet, secluded alcove, where the only sound was the wind rustling in the grass, and the water hitting the rocks. Xiphias crouched near the shore, her heels digging into the clean, white sand. She pulled a bottle out of her pocket, and poured the soupy green contents into the water. The liquid, like oil in the water, moved out to sea, and fish rose to the surface, their corpses, still twitching and flopping as they washed up on the beach around Xiphias's feet. She ran her fingernail over the scales of the fish, which were as bright as a rainbow, smooth downward, like sandpaper upwards.
She smiled down at the dead fish, looking at the dark cloud of poison that she's poured into the water. It hung there, not dissipating. Her beautiful poison. As she pet the dead, cooling fish, she felt a presence behind her. She slowly rose to her feet, casually. But, a small bead of sweat had formed on the back of her neck, and her spine was stiff as she moved. She kicked the fish back in the water, but it just washed up again with the next wave. Xiphias slowly turned, the sand making a grinding noise under her foot. "I knew you'd come." Xiphias clasped her hands at her back.
Nida smirked, his eyes dark, dark like Iudicium's, that fathomless onyx. He just smiled at her, a serene, sweet smile that turned hard, ugly.
Xiphias just stared at Nida, who was leaning against the rocky cliff, his arms crossed over his muscular chest, his almond eyes narrowed at her. Behind her back, Xiphias used the edge of her fingernail to cut into her wrist until she felt blood against her finger. "I won't be defeated so easily."
"We'll see," Nida whispered, taking a step away from the cliff, towards her. His voice didn't really sound like his own, more like hers. Like Iudicium, even a little like Ultimecia. She could also see the translucent black wings rising from his shoulders.
"Your ex-lover is here. Doesn't seem to care about you," Xiphias whispered, her voice feigning sympathy. "Poor little Nida. Blames this all on you." She waved her one hand, keeping her bleeding wrist behind her back. "Probably blames this plague on you, too."
Nida's hard countenance shivered at her words, and she saw the wall of Iudicium he'd built up beginning to crack, raw pain showing through. Her lip curled up in a sneer, and she thrust her bleeding wrist outwards, spraying Nida with her blood. "Idiot, to the last."
Irvine sat, stagnant, next to Selphie's bed. He had barely moved in the past three weeks or so, since Selphie had been brought back from the clutches of the Inaudax. She had fallen in and out of consciousness, but when she was awake, wasn't even lucid. Ellone had also been coming by less and less frequently. But, it was hard to tell, because, to Irvine, the days were melding, melting together.
"We probably would have been married by now," Irvine whispered. He'd said that countless times already, but past sentiments were all he could really think to speak. "Maybe even had a baby on the way, who knows." He gripped her hand, which felt so small in his own. It also felt cold, dead. Like she was. Was Selphie even really alive? Sure, she was breathing, her heart was beating, but.... Irvine shook his head. "No, you're alive. You came back."
He slowly turned his tired eyes, and saw Ellone standing in the doorway, meekly holding her hands in front of her dark indigo dress, her shoulders bowed sadly.
"Any change?" Ellone asked, a reflex. She was positive there was no change in Selphie's condition.
"No," he said sadly, slumping in his chair once more. "You haven't been around lately..."
"You noticed?" She asked, her voice deadpan, void of emotion. She sat in the chair on the other side of Selphie's bed. "Irvine... You are maybe going to have to accept that she isn't going to get better."
"I will not accept that," he hissed, showing real emotion. He stared at Ellone for a few moments, his jaw clenched, his periwinkle eyes burning into her. Ellone's serene countenance remained unflustered. His emotions slid away again, and he slumped in his chair. "She'll get better." His voice was dull, so unlike Irvine Kinneas.
"I hope so," Ellone said quietly. "But...." She sighed, and thought for a moment, trying to find words that wouldn't sound harsh or hurtful. Suddenly, she was interrupted by the sound of movement on sheets.
Irvine gasped, Selphie's hand like an iron vice around his own fingers as she convulsed in her small, twin bed. Her body was thrashing violently, the sheets twisting all around her, her feet kicking so hard that the sheets began to rip and untuck.
"Selphie!" Irvine cried.
"Oh, my God!" Ellone quickly stood, her chair falling backwards, clattering to the floor. "What's happening!"
"Get a doctor!" Irvine panted, wincing as Selphie's grip became rather painful.
"Xi.....phias....." Selphie panted, her eyes flying open. But, they couldn't see any of her emerald irises. Her eyes were rolled into the back of her head, and all they could see was frightening white. Selphie bared her teeth, and it looked like she was foaming at the mouth.
"Get a doctor!" Irvine screamed at Ellone. "Now!"
She nodded, running out of the room.
"Sefie, hang on... Sis went to get some help. It's Irvine, can you hear me?"
"Xiph....i.......as....." Selphie wheezed. "Xiphias!!" She cried again. Her slack mouth, which was foaming, remained open, and a horrible scream came out of her as she writhed and shook with seizure. It was less than human, a noise that was awful, grating on Irvine's eardrums, a scream like a banshee, a scream from Hell. "Xiph......ias......" She wailed, her head thrashing back and forth. She was spasming so hard that she was almost falling out of the bed.
"Selphie, please stop!" Irvine wailed pathetically, releasing her hand. His own hand was red and bruised from her tight grip. He held her shoulders down as she rocked and flailed. She started screaming again, loud enough to wake the dead. "What's going on?!" Irvine cried, wailing in Selphie's face, hoping, praying that her awful screams would stop, hoping, praying that Selphie, the true Selphie, would come back to him.
Squall looked down at the view his Hotel room window gave of Winhill. He was looking at a small playground. There was a school nearby, and children were using the last shred of light to play on the swings and teeter-totters. They climbed on the jungle gym like little monkeys, laughing and chasing each other. Squall didn't like children all that much, but there was one that he'd been watching for the past hour. A small boy, who had to be either twelve or eleven. A smile had never left his face, his laughter like bells in Squall's ears. The reason this child held the scarred man's attention was because he looked familiar. He looked like the pictures that Squall had seen in Nida's home in Dollet. This child, laughing and swinging his skinny legs as he sat on one of the swings, talking with friends, looked just like the pictures of Nida as a child. This boy had a laugh that made Squall's heart curl with loneliness. It sounded like Nida. Squall pressed his forehead to the glass again. There was already a spot on it from where he'd been pressing his forehead, staring at the playing children.
His heart was breaking, and he felt foolish. He'd sworn never to fall in love, after Ellone had left the Orphanage. But, he'd fallen for Rinoa, and that had ended badly. He'd fallen for Rinoa, and it had changed him, torn him apart. His emotions had gone haywire, his feelings had taken control of him. He'd never wanted that to happen again. But, then Nida came along. Nida, who'd always been there, Nida who had melted into the background, purposely so. Shy, smart Nida. And, Squall's emotions were destroying him. Love was supposed to make you a better person, and all Squall felt was pain, sadness, at his separation from Nida. Maybe Nida wasn't coming back because he was sick of Squall's dependence, his mood swings.
Squall's sensual lips quivered as the child on the swing laughed again, his sprightly face lighting up like a star, his almond eyes narrowing as his mouth opened in happy giggles, his even, white teeth glistening against carmine lips and olive skin. The laughter sounded so much like Nida, except childish. Nida's laugh was deeper, more mature. "God...." Squall choked out, closing his eyes. "I miss you."
Squall gasped when he heard a knock on the door. He tore his eyes away from the small Asian boy downstairs. "Who is it?"
"It's Rinoa. Can I come in for a second?"
Squall rolled his eyes. "I guess." He looked back to the playground. "What do you want?" He asked caustically when he heard Rinoa come into the room, closing the door behind her. They hadn't spoken since Rinoa had attacked him in Esthar after Nida's departure.
"To clear the air?" Rinoa asked. She had her hands nervously clasped on her belly, kneading the soft fabric of her orange jersey halter top, then playing with the drawstring of her black track pants. "We haven't talked since....." She cocked her head, her bangs falling to one side of her forehead, her buns wobbling slightly.
Squall bit the inside of his lip, and turned to face his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly, all he could smell was blood. It was intoxicating, and totally overpowered the smell of flowers. Sweet, hot blood. His hands curled into fists, and his nails, which were growing long again, even though he cut them every day, digging into the heel of his hand. The tang in the air made his mouth water, and he could almost taste it on his tongue. He looked at Rinoa, his skin beginning to shiver. Griever's power, her blood, her bloodlust, was rising in him. He shook his head. "Clear the air?" He repeated, his voice hoarse as he tried to control himself.
"Yeah. I mean....." Her eyes narrowed, and it made Squall think of Nida again. "I'm still angry with you, Squall. Very angry."
Squall's upper lip curled. "Because you want Nida for yourself." He took a step towards her, menace clouding his features. As he got closer to her, he could smell the blood stronger. But, it smelled... different. Not like true blood. His eyes went down her body as she put her hands on her hips, giving Squall an angry look. The taste of blood was on the tip of his tongue. Menses. The smell was Rinoa's menstrual blood. He had to bite his lip to keep from panting.
"No, because Nida is my friend, and you hurt him, Squall...." Rinoa ground out, taking a step back. The look on Squall's face was beginning to frighten her. "You're supposed to love him, you know."
Squall looked down towards her crotch again, Griever's presence getting stronger in him. It had been a while since Squall had really felt her, but she was back, with a vengeance. One of the things that Squall hadn't dealt with lately had been menstrual cycles. With Nida, he didn't have to worry about it, and it was something he was glad of. But now, he was more than glad that Rinoa was on her period. The smell was making him light-headed. He distantly remembered reading something about women zookeepers not being allowed near the lions while they were menstruating, because the smell would attract them. Now, he knew why. He took another step forward, and she took one back.
"Squall, what's your problem?!" She crossed her arms over her breasts. "You have a strange look on your face."
"Are you here to apologize for hitting me?" Squall asked.
Rinoa laughed suddenly. "Tit for tat, Squall. You hit me at Cid's retirement party... I hit you in Esthar." Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "What the hell is wrong with you? You keep looking at me funny."
"Just get out," Squall muttered, trying to contain himself. "I'm not in the mood to talk to you right now."
"Maybe you should change yourself, instead of just trying to make yourself look attractive. Nida might come back if you stop acting like such a cunt."
Squall raised his hand quickly, but stopped himself before he hit Rinoa.
"Want to hit me? Fine. Do it. It won't endear you to Nida."
Squall suddenly started laughing. "If I didn't know better, I would think that you were trying to provoke me into doing just that. It would work in your favour if I slapped you." He had to close his eyes. He could feel sweat trickling down his spine. If Rinoa didn't leave soon, he was going to end up pouncing on her.
"Look, like I said... I wanted to clear the air, and I meant it. But, you aren't really co-operating right now, so maybe I'll just come back later." She turned to leave, brushing her fingers through her bangs. But, Squall caught her wrist as she passed him. His grip was tight, painful.
"Squall...!" Rinoa gasped, trying to wrench her wrist out of his grip. "Stop it."
"You wanted to talk, right?" He asked, his voice low.
She tried to pull herself out of his grip, and ended up stumbling, falling to the floor, Squall on top of her. Squall grabbed her other wrist, and got Rinoa pinned under him.
"Squall.... what are you doing?!" Rinoa demanded. She felt Squall's breath against her neck, and then realized that he was smelling her. "Squall, are you crazy?!" She struggled against him, but he had her effectively pinned to the ground. He looked up at her, his head rearing from her throat. He looked at her through his bangs, which had fallen foppishly over his eyes. Rinoa gasped. She didn't feel like she was looking at a human. His eyes were so alien, so... animal. "Let me go, Squall!"
"Don't you want to clear the air?" He asked, smiling at her, but it looked more like he was baring his fangs.
Why is he looking at me like that? Rinoa asked herself, her brown eyes wide. It had been quite a while since she'd been in this position with Squall, his weight pressing her into the floor, the bed, whatever. He was still staring at her through his bangs, his body pressed flush to her. Although, the last time they'd been in a position like this, she'd felt his large erection pressing against her. Now, she could only feel something inhuman crushing her. It was the lion within him, Griever. But.... why would he suddenly attack her like this? When Squall's hand began to move into the waistband of her baggy pants, she knew why. Oh, God..... She shook her head. Could he smell her blood? She looked at him, and her fear rose. He could. He smelled her period. She'd only started it two days ago, so was still in the heaviest part of her cycle. A lot of blood. And, Squall wanted it. She could feel him shivering with bloodlust. "Get off me!" She cried, suddenly very afraid of Squall.
Squall didn't seem to hear her, and he held her wrists tightly, his tongue snaking over the sweat that was forming on her neck. He tasted the salt, and just wanted to bite into her jugular, spraying blood all over Rinoa's pale throat, all over his face, hot blood and chewy muscle everywhere. He could smell the blood everywhere. Everywhere. He pushed his fingers down under the elastic waist of Rinoa's pants. Her stomach was hot under his touch. He touched the seam lines of her underwear, cotton, ordinary, not sexy, what she had referred to as her 'period' underwear. He could feel the pad, a lump under the crotch of the panties. He could also feel the heat of her crotch, feel the heat of the blood. She struggled, and he dipped his finger under the panties, feeling the wet heat of blood. That heady, heavenly blood.
Rinoa moved her knee up, and jerked it into Squall's groin. He yelped, releasing his grip on her wrists. Rinoa scurried away from his grip, rolling away. She rose to her feet, adjusting her pants. "What the fuck is wrong with you?!"
He looked up at her, sticking the tips of his fingers in his mouth. They had droplets of her womanly blood on them, and the taste exploded on his tongue, causing him to roll his eyes in the back of his head. He began crawling along the floor, something that actually looked graceful. His shoulders gently rose and fell, and Squall didn't look quite human in Rinoa's eyes.
She picked up a heavy candlestick holder from one of the tables, and held it out like a weapon. "Don't you come any closer, Squall!"
He stopped, and slowly rose to his feet, which was a boneless motion. "Going to murder me in the Lounge, Miss Scarlet?"
"You get away from me, Squall. Stay away until you snap out of it."
Squall licked his fingers again, still tasting the blood, his eyes still feline, less than human. Suddenly, he stiffened, a chill running down his spine. His eyes became wholly Squall again, and it caused Rinoa's grip on the candlestick to falter.
"Nida...." He whispered.
"What?" Rinoa lowered her arm to her side. "Squall....?"
"Get out of the way!" He pushed her out of the way, causing Rinoa to stumble. The candlestick fell to the ground, and she had to brace herself on the heavy mahogany armoire.
"What....?" Rinoa began to ask again, but then she felt it. Magic. Nida's magic. "Oh....." She got her wits about her. "Squall, wait! I'm coming, too!" She dashed after him as he bolted down the hallway of the Hotel, basically throwing himself down the stairs.
He could feel Nida in the air, as if his Asian lover was standing right next to him. The air felt heavy, and as soon as he stepped out into the evening air, the sun lowering below the mountains, the presence became so thick that Squall felt his breath being stolen from his lungs. But, it wasn't just Nida in the air. It felt ugly, like a melting of two powers. Xiphias? He heard Rinoa's feet hitting the gravel behind him.
"Oh, my God!" She breathed. Her teeth began to chatter. The wind coming from the ocean was cold, and she was only wearing a halter top, warm up pants, and orange sneakers. Her nipples hardened against her shirt when a vicious blast of wind whipped across their skin. "What's happening?" The wind wasn't cold just because of the ocean, and the setting sun. It was cold because of the warring magic in the air. "Nida must be here!" She looked at Squall, her eyes wide. "And, he must have found Xiphias!"
Squall panted, a small groan coming out of his lips. He looked around, trying to find a source for the magic.
"There!" Rinoa pointed, sticking her arm out. She pointed towards the road that led to the beach. The flowers and grass were bowing under the growing wind, and the sun continued to disappeared, leaving things dark.
Squall didn't say anything to her, and bolted in the direction of the beach, running as fast as he could. Rinoa was keeping up with him, panting because her legs weren't as long as his. Squall was also beginning to run out of breath. He normally didn't get winded so fast, but the fact that the magic was at an oppressive level, and that he wasn't eating as healthily as he should have caused him to begin to pant as well. The power, the magic in the air, exploded, and caused Squall and Rinoa to both stumble. They were on a downward slope, so Squall slightly rolled down, and Rinoa grunted as her palms became skinned in the gravel.
"Nida!" Rinoa cried. She didn't have a weapon, and wished that she'd at least tucked a derringer in the back of her pants. She got up, running past Squall, leaping down the small hill towards the beach. The magic was beginning to leave the air, and Rinoa had a bad feeling. As she got closer to the beach, she noticed that there were footprints around, as if there had been a fight, as well as dark splattering. It looked like it could have been blood, but it was very dark, too dark. One of her buns came loose, and her hair streamed behind her as she ran. "Nida!!"
Squall dashed in the same direction that Rinoa did, passing her with his longer legs. His lungs burned, but not as much as his heart. If it was Nida.... Squall would get to see him again, but what if Xiphias had hurt him? If Xiphias had done anything to Nida, Squall would destroy her. But, Squall reminded himself that he'd hurt Nida, too, and had no right to protect him. He noticed feathers blowing around. "Nida?!" He called, his voice mingling with Rinoa's. "Oh, God.... Nida?"
"Squall, look!" Rinoa cried, pointing. "It's Xiphias!" Rinoa went towards her, crouching beside the Sorceress's body. "She's still alive...." Rinoa cocked her head. "But, not for long."
Squall looked around, and saw a figure walking down the beach, away from them, translucent. "Nida!" Squall screamed, running after him. Nida looked large to him, because his wings were out, far more concrete than Squall had ever seen them. "Nida!" Squall screamed again. He reached out to grab for him, but only grabbed thin air. Nida was gone. Squall fell on his face, into a dark pool of fluid. Blood. But, it didn't have that intoxicating smell that Rinoa's menses had. It smelled gross, ugly. Like toxins. It burned his skin, but in a way that was wholly different than fire.
Rinoa looked over, seeing Squall laying in the sand. She could hear him crying Nida's name, over and over again. She then heard laughing, cackling, broken laughter. She looked down, and saw Xiphias's cracked lips open in a smile. Now that Rinoa was actually looking closely at Xiphias, she saw that the Inaudax Oracle had been brutalized. Her body was mutilated, her limbs, well, what limbs remained, twisted at ugly angles. One of her legs had been broken off at the knee, so only a bloody, ragged stump remained. She was also missing her left arm at the shoulder, and unnaturally dark blood was pouring from the wound. Rinoa felt like vomiting when Xiphias struggled for breath, and intestines continued to flow out of a hole in her stomach, blood spouting everywhere. There was also pulpy flesh, female organs, hanging from between her legs, like her uterus had been half ripped out.
"He's..... already... poisoned...." Xiphias panted, black, black blood welling on her lips, which were torn, ruined. She laughed, then died.
Rinoa panted, trying to hold down her bile, blood still oozing out of Xiphias's mangled corpse. Nida did this? He had committed these acts of disgusting violence? Rinoa gasped when she felt blood touching her fingers. The pool that was forming around Xiphias's corpse had grown. She suddenly felt burned. Rinoa held up her fingers, examining them in the minimal light. "Fire," she whispered, palming a small flame. She gasped, her fingers looking bloated and bruised. Simply from touching Xiphias's blood. "Squall!" Rinoa called.
"Nida......." Squall wheezed, still laying in the sand. Nida had left without so much as a backwards glance. Nida didn't care about Squall anymore. "Nida...." He choked out, and then began weeping, coughing, crying into the bloodstained sand, the blood that felt like fire against his skin.
"Squall!" Rinoa called, jogging towards him. She wished that she had an Antidote on her. She tried to cast Esuna, but nothing happened. "Squall, don't touch Xiphias's blood! I think it's poisoned!" Rinoa thought of Xiphias's last words as she walked towards Squall. What did it mean? 'He's already poisoned'? Was she talking about Squall? Had he touched blood? But, Rinoa had a feeling that Xiphias was talking about Nida, and not because he'd touched her blood. Nida had absorbed Xiphias's powers. Was he being poisoned by them, by the power of all the Inaudax Oracles that he'd taken powers from?
Rinoa crouched beside Squall, and noticed that he was crying, laying in a pool of black fluid. Xiphias's blood. "Fuck!" She rolled Squall over. "Squall! Squall? Are you okay?" She gasped, holding back a scream when she looked at his face. It was bruised, purple like her fingers were. "God, Squall!" She dragged him away from the blood, her fingers hurting. "I'm going to go get some help. Stay here, okay?" She ran into the darkness, towards town, deciding to find Laguna. Seifer would know what to do about the poison.
Squall felt pain moving through his head. "Nida....?" He called. "Please.... please... don't leave... me...." He wheezed, blacking out.
Irvine lowered himself into his chair as Sunde looked down at Selphie, who was suddenly still. "What happened?" Irvine asked quietly, looking over the black clad doctor.
"I'm not sure...." Sunde answered. Ellone was standing behind him, a worried look lingering in her coffee brown eyes.
Selphie's eyes fluttered open, bloodshot and weary.
"Selphie?" Irvine whispered, leaning in. "Selphie, can you hear me?"
She blinked a few times, her face scrunching up in weariness, in discomfort. She lolled her head to the side, to the source of the voice. "Irvine.......?"
He sighed in relief, a small laugh coming out of his lips. "Oh, thank you Hyne." He reached out for her hand, holding it tightly. It was shaking in his own.
"Where.....?" She asked, coughing.
"Don't try to talk, Selphie," Sunde instructed. He pulled out a needle. "I'll just give you some sedatives."
"What are you doing?" Irvine asked, holding his hand out, preventing Sunde from injecting her slender arm.
"I want her to rest, Mr. Kinneas. She's in discomfort, obvious by the look on her face."
"Irvine, he's just doing his job," Ellone said quietly.
He slowly conceded. Selphie grunted, looking at Irvine. "What's happening....?"
"Shhhh....." He whispered, running his hand through her limp bangs. "Just rest now."
Ellone turned her head away as Irvine gently kissed Selphie, pure adoration evident on his face. Ellone had already cried too many times over Irvine, and she didn't want anyone to see her cry this time.
"Tevedes!" Val yelled, storming into the pale General's study. Tevedes looked up from the book that she was reading. "Tevedes!"
Pallas stepped away from her guard post, giving Valhalla a hard look. "Keep your voice down."
"Don't boss me around, Pallas!" Val warned, her teeth bared in a sneer. "You're not my superior."
"But, I am... right now, anyway," Tevedes pointed out. "What's wrong with you?"
"Oh, Tevedes, you're doing such a fabulous job leading us. Xiphias was just fucking killed, you know!!" Val slammed her fists against Tevedes's desk.
The commotion brought Gietzen out of the shadows, appearing from God knows where. It also brought Viator, whose crimson eyes were boring into both the fuming Valhalla and the calm, collected Tevedes.
"What's all the screaming about?" Viator asked.
"Xiphias is dead. Tevedes, she's dead because of you!" Val was snarling now. "Your little plan isn't working. Nida is destroying us."
Tevedes's colourless eyes narrowed. "You're questioning me?"
"Oh, I'm soooo questioning you!" Val ground out.
"Uh..." Gietzen held up a pale finger. "I have to say, although I won't be as disrespectful as Val, that I'm also wondering what's going on. Aren't we just baiting Nida, giving him more power?"
Tevedes smiled thinly, closing her book. She opened a cedar box, and pulled out a cigar. She smelled it, smirking, then put it between her teeth.
"That's what you were doing?!" Viator asked, anger rising in her voice. "You sacrificed Schuld and the others to give him more power?!"
Tevedes cocked her head, standing, looking imposing. "Yes, Viator. That's exactly what I did."
"You're not more important than the rest of us, you know," Val seethed. "How dare you just let the others die!"
Tevedes rounded the desk, and slung one of her arms around Val's shoulders, which were shaking with anger. The small girl tried to get away, but Tevedes held her fast. "Now, now.... You see, I've worked it out. All that power, the power of Schuld, Griever, Magdalene and Xiphias will begin working on Nida. Coupled with the fact that he and his little bitch of a girlfriend, Squall, are on the outs, Nida will be weakened against the onslaught of archaic power." Tevedes puffed on her cigar thoughtfully, filling the air with the heady smoke. "And, after the visitor that I have planned for him works her magic, Nida will be lost in the sea of black power, our power in his veins."
"But...." Gietzen interrupted, her shy voice cracking slightly. "What about the others? What about Schuld? What about Griever, Magdalene and Xiphias? They're still dead."
"You don't see the bigger picture, my love." Tevedes's bloodless lips sliced open in a cold smile. "When we have Iudicium, we can get them back." She blew smoke rings, squeezing Val's shoulder.
"Why didn't you just tell us this in the first place?" Val asked. "Why can't we just send everything we have at them?"
"Because, slow and steady wins the race," Tevedes pointed out, looking up as Fermata entered the room, humming gently under her breath. "Isn't that how the cliche goes? Ahhh, Fermata. How goes it?"
Fermata lowered her curvaceous body into one the chairs, looking at Viator, Valhalla, Pallas and Gietzen. She stopped humming abruptly, and her plain, bland voice filled the room, her words lilted by laughter that was as musical as her singing voice. "I know where Nida's been hiding."
Squall grunted, slowly opening his eyes. Sun was streaming from somewhere, and it hurt his vision. Everything was also blurry. No glasses, no contact lenses. Why was he so tired, and why did his face hurt? He turned his head, smelling flowers. White Lilies.
"Squall, are you okay?"
Laguna's voice. Squall grunted again, and raised his arm, which felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. He felt the nightstand under his fingers, and groped around.
"What do you want?" Laguna's voice again.
"My glasses...." Squall muttered, using his other hand to rub his eyes.
"Here." Squall felt the metal of his frames touch his fingers, and he gripped the glasses, putting them on. The room came into crisp focus. Laguna was sitting beside the bed, a look of concern on his handsome face. "Are you okay?"
Squall nodded slowly, scrunching his face up as he slowly rose to a sitting position, the warm sheets a cocoon around him.
The scarred man blinked, looking to the foot of his bed. Seifer and Zell were standing there, looking at him.
"How are you feeling?" Seifer asked, cocking his head.
"Fine.... My face hurts a little bit. Why?" He looked at a point beyond Seifer, remembering. "Nida...." He whispered. "God, what happened to me. I can remember.... blood. Nida..... and blood, and Rinoa yelling.... Rinoa smelled like blood."
Zell and Seifer exchanged confused looks. Laguna furrowed his brow, and patted Squall's hand.
"Well...." Seifer put his hand to his chin, thinking. "I don't know what you mean about Rinoa, but you were found in a pool of Xiphias's blood. It was toxic, and it gave you poison burns on your face and torso."
Squall's eyes widened, and he touched his tender cheeks.
"Don't worry... We gave you antidotes. You're okay now," Seifer said slowly. "Good thing Rinoa got us in time."
"Xiphias....?" Squall whispered.
"She was mutilated... We think Nida did it. Her powers were gone, so he probably took them."
Squall's sexy lips parted, and he heaved out a quiet breath. He saw, the briefest flash of memory, Nida walking away from him on the beach, disappearing to God knows where.
"The epidemic is over now, because Xiphias is dead," Laguna pointed out.
"Where is he?!" Squall demanded. "Where's Nida?"
"We don't know...." Zell said. "What did you mean about Rinoa smelling like blood?"
"Oh...." Squall rubbed at his cheeks, blinking, his eyelashes gently brushing the small lenses of his glasses. "Griever's powers.... sort of resurfaced for a few moments in me. I could smell... blood." He didn't say any more. No need to announce to the world that Rinoa was ragging. Also no need to mention that he put his hands in her panties, trying to get the blood out of her, one way or another.
"What do you feel now?" Laguna asked, squeezing Squall's hand, careful not to scratch himself on Squall's nails, which were now dangerously long.
"Empty," Squall answered truthfully. He looked down at his hand as Laguna squeezed it. "I need to cut my nails."
"I think you should rest. Worry about that later," Laguna commanded, his voice fatherly.
"I'm not tired," Squall pointed out.
"You should eat something."
"Dad...." Squall narrowed his eyes. "I'm not hungry, okay?"
Laguna looked over his shoulder at Seifer and Zell, worry in his eyes. Squall's weight loss was becoming visible, even under the loose shirt he was wearing and blankets that covered him.
"Squall..." Zell began.
"Can you lecture me later, please?" Squall snapped. He didn't want to talk to anyone. He just wanted to bury himself in bed, and mourn. Nida had come to Winhill, and left without trying to see Squall, left even as Squall was chasing him down the beach, screaming his name, begging him to stop. Was it over? "I just... I just want to have a shower, okay?"
There was silence for a few moments. "Okay," Laguna conceded. "I should go meet with Quistis and Xu anyway. Look... Just please....." He huffed, not knowing what to say. He could see that Squall wasn't going to listen to him. "You're as stubborn as your mother, you know that?"
"That's good," Squall muttered, crawling out of bed. He began to walk, shuffle, towards the bathroom, but Laguna stopped him.
"Wait." Laguna opened his mouth to say something, but instead caught his son in a firm hug. "I'm just glad that you're okay." He looked over at Seifer and Zell over Squall's shoulder, his eyes full of worry. When he hugged Squall, he could feel the bones beginning to poke at his son's skin. He could feel the shoulder blades and spine and ribcage. He could see Squall's cheeks becoming more hollow. He still looked beautiful, just like his mother, but he had the appearance of one of those waif supermodels that looked unhealthy. And, it wasn't only Squall's body that looked ill. It was his eyes. They looked lonely and dead.
"Thanks," Squall said quietly, disentangling himself from his father's embrace.
"We'll leave you alone for a few minutes," Zell said, leading Seifer out of the room.
Squall slowly showered his body, feeling heavy. His heart felt heavy. He worked the shampoo into his hair, seeing images of Xiphias's ruined body over and over, flashing through his mind. Squall finished washing the shampoo out of his hair. He could smell the faintly exotic smell hanging on the strands of his hair. It smelled like Nida. As the water ran down his back, Squall balled his hands into fists, pressing them against the wet tiles of the shower. The colour of faded leaves. He whimpered, holding back a scream of anguish, of anger. How could Nida not say anything to him?!
Squall panted, a small wheeze still escaping through his clenched teeth. He just wanted Nida to tell him it was all a big misunderstanding. Squall just wanted Nida to wrap his arms around him, holding Squall close, telling Squall he forgave him. Squall didn't know how much longer he could live without Nida, and that scared him. Terrified him. He was letting himself become too dependant on Nida. Squall was his own man. He should start acting like it. But... Every time he told himself this, he would feel his heart wrench. This is why he had sworn so many times never to let anyone get too close, why he would never give his heart away again. Because Squall felt love strongly. Too strongly. He had to keep people at arm's length because he would get too attached, like he was doing with Nida.
And, Squall had fallen for Nida harder than he should have been allowed. Nida loved Squall simply because he was Squall Leonhart, nothing more. Nida loved all of Squall's flaws, and Squall loved Nida because of that. Squall turned off the water, trying so hard to keep himself together. He needed to be alone. He had to shut himself down. If he could push away his feelings for Nida, maybe he could start functioning as a human again. But, would he want to? Love was one of those things that it hurt so badly to feel, but when you did feel it, the hurt, the pain, was worth it.
Squall stepped out of the shower, dried himself off, and cut his nails, already feeling a little better. He looked at his reflection in the mirror, his face looking wan and gaunt. He just stared at himself as he blow-dried his hair. He put on his glasses, and began to get dressed, wanting to do it quickly and quietly, so that he could slip out of his room without anyone seeing him. They would question him about his health, if he was hungry, tired, sad, whatever. Squall just didn't want to see anyone. He put on some black satin boxers, and sat on the edge of the bed as he pulled on some socks. The clothes he chose made sadness, and even a little bit of fear, rise in him. They were clothes he'd worn many times before; black pants with zippers up the outer side of the lower legs, a black leather belt with silver pyramid studs, a white undershirt, and a long sleeved button-up shirt, faintly pinstriped with white. The pants had always been fairly loose, and now he was swimming in them. He had to move the belt a hole tighter. The shirts, which had fitted tightly against his chest, were now loose. He sighed, putting on his watch.
"I really should eat something..." Squall muttered to himself, listening at the door to see if anyone was there. But, at the thought of food, the auburn-haired man's stomach churned angrily. Even just thinking about eating made him ill.
Squall didn't hear anything on the other side of the door, so opened it. He gasped, frowning angrily when he saw Seifer standing outside, arms folded across his broad chest.
"Trying to sneak out?" Seifer asked, cocking a pale eyebrow.
"Leave me alone, Seifer," Squall commanded angrily, pushing past his former rival. He went down the stairs, and outside, glad that he didn't see Laguna.
"Squall, wait!" Seifer's voice was very commanding, and the hand on Squall's shoulder wasn't entirely gentle.
"Seifer, leave me alone!" Squall hissed quietly, his eyes shooting lasers at the other man. "I just want to be alone, okay?"
"So you can wallow over Nida?"
"Maybe," Squall answered defensively, walking towards the newer part of town. Seifer fell in step beside him, and Squall had a feeling that he wasn't going to get rid of Seifer Almasy very easily.
"Do you really think that this womanly, idiotic behaviour is going to temp Nida back into your arms?"
Squall just glared at Seifer, his arms locking around his thinning chest.
"Look..." Seifer's voice became more gentle as they walked along the dirt road that lay between the corn fields, past the Chocobo Crossing sign. They could hear distant warks in the background, and it made Squall think of Vivi, which made him think of Nida, which caused his heart to painfully flutter.
"I miss him...." Squall whispered, despite himself.
"I know," Seifer whispered. "I'm in love too, remember?" Seifer pulled a pair of sunglasses out of his pocket and put them on. The shades made him look very glamorous. "But.... you can't let love bulldoze you. Squall.... Nida loves you because you're you, not because you're folding like a card table. He wants a second person, not a shadow."
Squall narrowed his eyes. "What are you saying?"
Seifer sighed. The dirt road became paved. Squall frowned sadly when he saw his mother's old pub. It was still empty, still a ghost. Nothing had changed about it. As long as they'd been in Winhill, Squall had avoided going there.
"I don't even think Nida loves me anymore," Squall admitted quietly, slowly walking towards the entrance to the pub where his parents had spent so much of their time together. "I don't think he does."
"Stop feeling so fucking sorry for yourself, Squall. There's lots of shit going on that makes things... complicated." Seifer gripped Squall's upper arm. "You're stronger than this."
Squall wrenched his arm free. "Maybe I'm not, okay? Everyone wants me to be this strong, stoic leader, and I've tried to be that. But, maybe I'm not! Maybe I'm an emotional mess, the same little kid that cried for days after Ellone left. Maybe I haven't changed at all." Squall stepped into the pub, the smell of white lilies everywhere. "Maybe I'm just like this bar. Maybe I'll never change. Maybe everything I project is just illusion, like the ghosts that everyone says they see of Raine." He lowered his body onto a stool in front of the dusty bar. "Maybe.... I'm nothing without him."
Seifer rolled his eyes, and sat at one of the tables. "Do you listen to yourself?"
Squall ignored him. He was touching the soft petals of the lilies. "I wish I knew what to do, Raine."
Seifer sadly watched Squall, not knowing what to say, what to do, how to snap Squall out of his self-pity. Seifer figured that Nida was trying to stay away to keep them safe. The blonde knew that Nida loved Squall as much as the slumped man at the bar, touching the flowers, loved Nida. But, Squall wouldn't listen to Seifer, no matter what he tried to say.
Seifer closed his eyes, folding his arms on his stomach, leaning back in the chair. It creaked slightly under his weight. Squall looked over. It almost seemed like Seifer was mediating, but from his position at the bar, Squall could see Seifer's eyes moving under his eyelids. Squall was curious, but he didn't say anything, leave Seifer to his private thoughts, which he wished others would do for him. He just didn't want to be asked if he was okay. He didn't want Rinoa yelling at him for driving Nida away. He didn't want everyone giving him concerned looks, saying 'you should really eat something'. He went back to touching the petals of the flowers. They were dying, the tips of the white, delicate petals turning a shade of pale brown.
Squall narrowed his eyes behind his glasses when he felt something rising in the air. It was a strange feeling, unnatural. He looked over at Seifer, who was still in the same position, basically ignoring Squall. The auburn-haired man just shook his head, turning back to the bar, the dusty bottles catching rays of light from the window. He could almost see his reflection in the grimy glass. But, his reflection looked a little strange, because it was moving, and he was not. He realized that it wasn't his reflection, but someone sitting down beside him at the stools. He turned his gaze to his left, expecting Seifer to have snapped out of his silent reverie, but Squall's aquatic blue eyes widened, his lips parting only slightly. He wasn't sure if he was seeing this correctly.
"Uh....." That was all Squall could say. He looked over to Seifer, who was still in his silent state. It looked like he'd fallen asleep. "Seifer...?" Squall whispered. But, Seifer didn't answer, his chest rising and falling. He was asleep. Probably because of all the work he'd been doing trying to fix the mess that Xiphias had created in Winhill. "I must be tired, too...." Squall muttered to himself, actually laughing. That was an understatement. The only real sleep Squall had gotten in the past three weeks was when he'd been unconscious because of injury. But, that strange feeling in the air wasn't going away. He looked at the person, the ghost, on his left, his eyes still wide with shock. "Raine.....?"
She smiled gently, a smile that was a mirror of Squall's own. "Hello."
Squall shook his head. This had to be a dream. Even if Squall had seen Raine's ghost over five years ago, this wasn't a ghost. He reached out, and touched flesh. He couldn't see though Raine, he couldn't pass through her. She was concrete, and real. "I have to be dreaming...."
"Maybe," Raine answered. She swivelled her body on the stool so that she was facing Squall, her son. "You've grown up to be very handsome."
Squall snorted. "Yeah.... Handsome. That's it." Squall looked at Raine's face, fully realizing why Laguna always said 'you look so much like your mother'. "I have to be dreaming...." He shook his head, looking at Raine. She was wearing the same outfit she'd been wearing in the visions Squall had gotten from Ellone. "Are you really here?"
Raine reached out and poked Squall in the arm playfully, gently, just as he'd done with her. "Why don't you tell me?"
Squall didn't know what to say. He didn't know if he could even form words to say anything.
"Are you and your father getting along?" Raine asked, the smell of white lilies slowly wafting from her.
Squall nodded slowly. "Yeah......"
"That's good. You know, Laguna wished he could have been there when you were born. But, I guess it couldn't have been helped. He was taken prisoner by Adel." Raine smiled distantly, as if recalling some memory, a happy one. Her mouth turned up in a wistful smile. "And, Ellone?"
"She's in Esthar," Squall answered quietly, scarce believing he was talking to his mother. "Helping Edea search for Nida." Squall's face became sad. "I guess you don't know anything about him."
Raine cocked her head, the band of gold on her finger catching the light. Her wedding ring. "You look sad."
"I am sad...." Squall whispered, not even thinking of what to say. The words were just coming anyway. "I am sad."
"Why?" She frowned. "Because of Ultimecia's Oracles?"
"How did you know about that?"
Raine reached out, and touched the side of Squall's face, brushing his bangs away. "Word gets around here."
Squall's eyes slid shut, and he turned his face into his mother's touch. "Where's 'here'?"
"Xystus...." Raine whispered.
Squall frowned, reaching up, touching Raine's wrist with his hands, pressing her palm into his cheek. She really was dead. He really was dreaming. But, she felt so real, so warm. "This is the first time you've touched me...." Squall whispered sadly.
"No, it isn't," Raine said. "I did when you were a baby."
"I don't remember that...." Squall had to choke back a sob. "I'm so sorry."
"For what?" Raine asked, her tone even, light, loving.
"For killing you," Squall whimpered. "I killed you."
Raine's other hand came up, and touched the other side of Squall's face, turning his head so that he was looking into her eyes. "Don't ever say that again, Squall. It was just nature.... Things like that happen."
"But.... if you'd never given birth to me....."
"Squall..." Raine's tone became sad. "You're my only child, aside from Ellone. But, you're the only child I bore to Laguna. I wouldn't trade your life for anything, not even my own."
Squall's lips trembled as he looked at Raine. "I miss you."
"Dad misses you, too."
Raine smiled again, her white teeth showing. "It's nice that you call him Dad. I know that he wasn't around when you were growing up...."
Squall just shrugged as Raine pulled her hands away from his face. "It happened.... That's the past."
"Tell me about this Nida."
Squall looked down at his hands, which had folded in his lap. "Well...."
"I know that he is the carrier of the... Iudicium power, right? That Ultimecia's Oracles want to kill him?"
Squall nodded silently.
"Even though you look sad, you smile when you think about him."
Squall looked up, meeting Raine's gaze. "Yeah."
"You love him."
Squall nodded, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. "Yeah, I do. But...." He sighed deeply. "I think I drove him away."
"What do you mean?"
Squall played with the hem of his shirt, the shirt that used to fit him so well, and now he was drowning in. "I act so stupid sometimes, especially when it comes to love. I..... I spent so much of my life not feeling anything, trying desperately to kill all my emotions. After Ellone was taken from the Orphanage, I cried and cried..... And, I never wanted to feel that again. I loved her so strongly, and it consumed me, and when she left.... It killed me."
Raine silently listened to Squall, whose shoulders were slumped wearily, a shadow of himself.
"And... with Rinoa Heartilly.... She's Julia Heartilly's daughter."
"Well, when I fell in love with her, it consumed me again. It consumed me into blindness. I didn't see, didn't want to see that we weren't compatible. She was looking for things in me that weren't wholly there. Maybe a little, but not fully. And, she... she treated me differently than everyone else. It blinded me to our differences. And, when it ended, it nearly destroyed me again, but for different reasons." Squall's cheeks coloured with shame. "It was a mess.... I.... I hit her, and it was just ugly. And, with Nida...." Squall sighed. "Why do I have to feel so strongly? Maybe if I didn't love him so much, I wouldn't be dying without him."
"Squall...." Raine reached out, taking his hand. "I think that it's because love has hurt you so many times in the past. You're letting the past be brought up, too. But.... I mean... you were reunited with Ellone, right?"
Squall nodded, covering his mouth with his hand, knowing that he was probably going to start crying.
"You know," Raine whispered. "When you cover your mouth like that, you look so much like Laguna." She cocked her head again. "And, things are better with you and Rinoa, right?"
Squall shrugged. "Not really. We fight. I'm jealous of her relationship with Nida."
"Because I'm afraid that she's going to steal him away from me. I'm afraid... That I'll lose him, just like I lost everyone else."
Raine became sad. "But, you've pushed him away all on your own."
Squall nodded. "I'm so stupid."
Raine stroked her son's shaggy hair. "No, no. You're not stupid. Just in love. It makes people do foolish things."
"I didn't have to say everything was his fault, though."
"Well, you're in very strange circumstances right now. Emotions run high."
Squall sighed. "And, something's... wrong... with me. Because of Griever."
Raine remained silent.
"She's one of our ancestors, or so she says. She... did something to me. She poured her blood into me, and it changed me into a lion."
Raine's eyebrows raised. "Really?"
Squall nodded. "I know it sounds weird. But.... I changed back. Because of Nida...." Squall smiled sadly. "But now....." He pointed to his glasses. "I have.... remaining effects. I need glasses, I have to cut my nails every day, and I get these urges... animal urges for blood. I attacked Rinoa because I could smell her...." Squall flushed in embarrassment. "I could smell her menstrual blood."
Raine nodded, motherly understanding written all over her face. "The Oracles have hurt a lot of people. Xystus is filled with those that they've wronged."
"What if he never comes back?" Squall asked. "I mean... I saw Nida on the beach, and I called to him, but he didn't hear me."
Raine got off her stool, and put her hands on Squall's shoulders. "Maybe there's an explanation. Maybe he wants to talk to you, but is afraid to. Maybe he thinks you meant what you said.... about blaming him, I mean. Maybe he'll try to contact you." She put a finger under Squall's chin, raising his gaze so it met hers. "Does he make you happy....?" She hesitated, because she could see the sorrow in his eyes.
"Yes," Squall answered. "He really does...." Squall bit his lip to keep it from trembling. "I'm the one that makes me sad. He..... He makes me feel..... whole."
Raine smiled sadly, thinking that's how she'd felt about Laguna. That feeling of being whole, of being alive. "Well, then he deserves you." She hugged Squall tightly, kissing the top of his head. "I love you, Squall."
Squall closed his eyes, pressing his face into his mother's sweater. "Please don't leave me again. I need you. I may be grown up, but I need you." He held his mother tightly. "Laguna needs you, too."
"I'm always sort of around." She kissed Squall's face a few times. "I hate seeing you so unhappy...."
Squall held her tightly, but found that she didn't feel as warm, or as real, as she had earlier. He pulled away, unshed tears making his eyes look like an ocean. "Please don't leave again."
She touched his face again, but her fingers didn't feel real anymore. "We'll see each other again."
"I love you...." Raine whispered. "Your father loves you, too."
"I love you, too....." Squall echoed, watching her disappear. He reached out, and touched her before she disappeared completely, warmth radiating up his arm, like Raine was still touching him. He sat on his stool, bringing his hand to his chest, touching his warm fingers to his heart. One of the tears that was in his eyes fell down his cheek, but he held the other ones back. He gently tapped his fingers against his breastbone, feeling light.
He looked over at Seifer, remember that he wasn't alone. The tall blonde was moving slowly, waking up. He stretched his long arms over his head, and looked over at Squall. "Must have dozed off." He saw the distant look in Squall's eyes. "What is it?"
"I saw my mother."
Seifer cocked his head.
"I saw her...." Squall whispered. "I touched her, and talked to her. I...." He smiled distantly. "I actually got to hug my mother."
Seifer smiled, but it was sort of tight around the edges. Squall looked genuinely happier than he had in a couple weeks, but Seifer envied him. Seifer would never get to hug his mother. He didn't want to hug his mother.
Squall slowly rose from his stool, and went over to where Seifer was reclined in his chair, the wood creaking gently. "You did this, didn't you?"
Seifer gave Squall a confused look, standing, looking down at his formal rival. "I don't know what you mean."
"Bullshit. You weren't sleeping. I thought that you were meditating. You.... you brought me my mother."
Seifer smiled gently. "We should probably go back to the Hotel. I'm sure Laguna is wondering where you are." Seifer began to move towards the door, but Squall stopped him.
Seifer gave a small, enigmatic smirk. "Sibling favour."
Squall regarded Seifer silently for a few moments, then said "thank you, Seifer."
"For what?" Seifer asked casually, patting Squall on the shoulder in a friendly manner. He then wrapped his arm around Squall's shoulder, just as Squall was putting his arms around Seifer's waist. Squall rested his chin on Seifer's shoulder as he was hugged by the man that had once been his most bitter rival. He squeezed Seifer back, feeling better. Just hearing his mother's voice, feeling her touch for the first time that he could actually remember meant the world to Squall, and he didn't know how to thank Seifer. He felt another tear escape his eyes, and he sniffled gently.
Seifer pulled away, wiping the tear off Squall's hollowed cheek with his thumb. "No crying, okay?"
Squall covered the hand on his cheek with his own hand. "I.... You don't know how much this meant to me....."
"It's fine, okay?"
Squall could tell that Seifer was a little uncomfortable with the praise that Squall was trying to give. "Okay," he answered. Squall leaned in, and gently kissed Seifer's mouth.
Seifer kissed him back, taking Squall's lower lip between his own. They opened their mouths against each other in the kiss, but no tongue was involved. It was a chaste kiss between two people who had been through so much together in their lives. Seifer didn't feel guilty about it, and neither did Squall. They weren't cheating on Zell and Nida. It was a platonic kiss, although it was a bit more involved than just a peck on the cheek.
Seifer pulled away, planting one last butterfly kiss on Squall's mouth. He'd sort of always wondered what it would be like to kiss Squall Leonhart, and now he knew. It was nice, and had felt good, because he did care deeply about Squall, but that's where it ended. "We should get back to the Hotel."
Squall nodded, giving one last look to the bar before following Seifer out into the afternoon sunshine. They walked back to the Hotel in silence. Seifer's mind travelled to Nida, and what he was doing, if the power had begun to corrupt him. Seifer guessed that it had, simply from the brutally violent way that Xiphias had been killed. But, it was hard to say, because Xiphias had deserved such brutality. The blonde put on his sunglasses, and looked over at Squall. It was still sort of hard to get used to Squall wearing eyeglasses, but they suited him. Squall was deep in thought, probably thinking about what Raine had said to him. Seifer didn't know what Raine had said to her son, because he'd been deep in a meditative state. But, he hoped that it was something that would snap Squall out of his funk.
When they stepped into the lobby of the Hotel, Laguna and Zell, who had been sitting at one of the tables in the corner, by the bay windows, stood up.
"Squall!" Laguna cried, obvious relief in his voice. "Thank God you're okay! Where were you?" He demanded sternly.
Squall smiled, and went over to his father, hugging him.
Laguna was a bit baffled by Squall's show of affection. Whenever they hugged, it was usually Laguna who instigated it. "What....? Where were you?"
"What happened?" Zell asked quietly, taking Seifer aside by the elbow. "Where did you guys go?"
"To Raine's pub." Seifer gave Zell a knowing look, and kissed his lover on the tip of the nose.
Zell cocked his head in confusion, then gave a slow, knowing nod. "Oh..... Did Raine cheer Squall up?"
Seifer just smiled, tapping the spot on Zell's nose that he just kissed. "So clever, you are."
"You won't believe what happened," Squall whispered, pulling away from his father. "I saw Raine."
Laguna narrowed his eyes. "Wha....?"
"Me and Seifer went to Raine's old pub, and I saw her.... I got to talk to her, and touch her.... She was actually there!"
Laguna thought that his son had finally slipped into a sleep-deprived madness, but when he looked over at Seifer and Zell, who were talking amongst themselves, low enough that Laguna couldn't hear what they were saying, he realized that Squall probably had seen his mother. It was still unknown what powers Seifer and Zell had brought back from Xystus with them. Maybe this was one of them....
"She was so warm..... She was actually there!" Squall exclaimed quietly, his eyes shining.
Laguna's own joy rose, simply from the happy expression on Squall's normally sombre face. He felt a slight pang, wishing that he'd seen Raine, too. "What did she say to you?"
"She.... She asked about you, and I told her about Nida. She told me she loves me."
"Of course she loves you," Laguna whispered. It was strange to see Squall looking this happy, especially because only an hour earlier, he looked miserable, on the verge of suicide.
"It was wonderful...." Squall whispered. He put his hand to his head when a sudden dizzy spell washed over him.
"Okay, okay." Laguna gripped Squall by the arm. "You've wound yourself up. Now, promise me you'll get some rest. I'll get room service to make you some food."
"I'm fine," Squall answered.
"No, you're not. Now, come on." Laguna gave Squall his best 'stern father' look, and led his son to the stairs. "You're going back upstairs, and you're going to rest."
Squall decided not to argue with Laguna, who began nattering about what food they had on the menu. As he was led up the stairs, Squall looked over his shoulder at Seifer, who met his gaze. Squall smiled again, mouthing 'thank you', and let Laguna basically push him to the second floor.
"Now, you're going to rest, right?" Laguna asked.
Squall just shrugged, knowing that he couldn't promise that. Although he'd tried to go to sleep countless times, he just couldn't. He maybe got an hour's worth of sleep a night. He opened the door, and the beautiful smell of flowers wafted towards him. But, it wasn't the smell of white lilies that was engrained in his brain from his encounter with Raine. It was a different smell. Exotic.
"Wow, what's that smell?" Laguna asked, coming into the room. "It smells nice."
Squall looked to the large circular table that was near the window. "Where did these come from?" Squall asked, going to the large bouquet of flowers. The colours popped, bright indigo, orange and blue. There were flowers that had pointed petals, and beautiful pink and purple veins moving in a gradient up their petals. Flowers with black centres that exploded in colour that was vibrant and alive. There was no card.
"They must have been delivered...." Squall murmured. He touched the flowers, their petals soft. They were so lovely. "I've never seen half these flowers...."
"Neither have I," Laguna answered truthfully. "And, I lived here for a while. You don't live in Winhill without learning a few things about flowers." He picked up the phone on the desk, and called downstairs. "Hello, this is President Loire in room 2M. Was there a flower delivery earlier...? Oh... there was. Well, is the delivery person still around?.... He is. Can you send him up? .... Yes, thank you." Laguna hung up the phone. "Well, maybe we'll find out who sent them to you."
Squall sat down beside the flowers, suddenly getting a bad feeling. "What if Tevedes sent them?"
Laguna shrugged. "I don't know." He inspected the arrangement. "It actually looks like the sort of arrangement that Raine used to make all the time. Maybe it has something to do with you seeing her."
Squall couldn't help but smile. He smelled a black and blue flower. It smelled like heaven. Familiar, though. He couldn't place his finger on it. "Maybe she did send them.....?"
"You wanted to see me?" A man asked. Boy, rather. He nervously stood in the threshold.
"Yes," Laguna greeted warmly. "We just wanted to know who sent these flowers."
The boy shrugged. "I don't know. I was just asked to deliver them. Even my boss didn't know who they're from. The order just sort of appeared out of nowhere on the desk. But, the flower order was specific." He looked at the bouquet. "It was hard to make, sir."
"Why is that?" Laguna asked. "They're beautiful flowers. I've never seen half of them."
"Well, that's the thing," the boy said, looking at Squall, who was staring off into the distance, thinking of what the smell reminded him of. "The flowers are indeed rare. They don't grow here. They're specially grown."
"Man-made flowers?" Laguna asked.
"No, no...." The boy waved his hands. "They're specially grown here because our climate is too warm for them."
"Trabia....?" Squall whispered, dread rising in him.
"No.... Trabia's too cold. These only grow in Dollet."
"So, you don't know who ordered them?" Laguna asked.
The boy shook his head.
"Okay, thank you for your time."
The boy nodded, and hurried away as if he couldn't disappear fast enough.
"Dollet....?" Laguna echoed.
Squall sat up quickly, the chair clattering to the floor. That's where he'd smelled that flower before. Nida always smelled like some distant, exotic flower because of the shampoo he used. The shampoo must have been made from these type of flowers. Squall went over to the armoire, and pulled out his carry on bag, shoving some clothes in it, not caring what they were. He also put his gunblade in its sling, and went into the bathroom, taking his shaving kit and toiletries.
"Squall....?" Laguna asked, his voice halting. "What are you doing?"
Squall zipped the bag up. "I'm leaving."
"What?!" Laguna screeched as Squall grabbed his wallet, shoving it in one of the back pockets of his pants. He chased Squall down the stairs. Seifer and Zell were sitting at one of the tables over coffee, and they both looked over, confused as Squall stalked out of the Hotel Lobby.
"Where are you going?!" Laguna demanded.
"I'm leaving. I'm going to see Nida."
"Nida....?" Zell echoed. He and Seifer began following Laguna and Squall.
Squall stopped at the car rental place, and paid for a sports car. He looked at the keys, and the girl pointed to the parking area, and said 'the blue one'.
Squall threw his bag and gunblade onto the passenger seat of the sporty little convertible, and vaulted over the door, putting the key in the ignition.
"But, you don't even know where Nida is!" Laguna pointed out. "And, you haven't been sleeping!"
"I'll call you when I find him," Squall muttered, taking off his black shirt. The temperature had risen, and he was too hot. He felt more comfortable in just the wifebeater. He buckled his seatbelt, looking over at Laguna as he turned the engine on. "I have to go."
"What... was it Nida that sent you those flowers? Is he in Dollet? Edea and Ellone checked Dollet, you know. That was the first place they checked!" He had to yell over the engine of the car. "He wasn't there."
"Please Dad....." Squall whispered. "I have to see him."
Laguna opened his mouth to protest, but Squall put the car in gear, and sped away, dirt and gravel being sprayed from under the tires.
"Squall!" Laguna called. Seifer put his hand on Laguna's shoulder, his green eyes thoughtful. "Seifer... I have to go after him. He's not well."
"Let him go, Laguna," Zell said quietly as the blue convertible disappeared. "If he finds Nida, maybe he'll finally start functioning again."
Laguna sighed, watching the road, even after Squall's rental car had long since disappeared. "I hope you find him...." Laguna whispered. He smelled white lilies all around him, and knew that Squall was being watched over.
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