The New Flesh

Chapter Sixteen

By Scarlet Fever

Squall's arms were locked around himself as he stared out the window. The rain was still pounding against the windows, but the flow of water itself wasn't that heavy. The cause of the heavy wailing on the windows was the high winds. The rain itself seemed to be petering off. Nida had left to get some furniture to replace the articles that had been destroyed during his fight with Fermata. Squall had wanted to go with him, to not let Nida out of his sight, but the Asian man declined, saying he wanted Squall to stay and look after Daisuke.

Nida's father was still sleeping, his body shut down, recovering from the attack through Fermata's song. Nida had made a nice breakfast for them that morning, of cantaloupe, Belgian waffles and exotic coffee that Squall had never tasted before. For Squall, it had been wonderful, except for the harsh shiver that had moved through the kitchen when Nida had begun humming under his breath. That in itself wasn't unusual, but the tone of Nida's voice was. Squall had noticed it. Nida had noticed it. Now, watching the rain streak the window, Squall felt afraid of Nida again. The texture of even sheer humming had felt like power, instead of the slightly off-key humming that Squall was used to from Nida. Did it mean that Nida could manipulate with song now? Did it mean that the Inaudax were beginning to take him over?

Squall sighed, plopping down on the edge of the bed, briefly taking off his glasses so he could pinch the bridge of his nose. His eyelashes fluttered with tired worry, and his pretty mouth turned down into a grimacing frown. He knew he should contact Winhill. Squall searched around Nida's room for the phone, and found it on the floor, half buried under some dirty clothes. He dialled the number for the Winhill hotel, cursing as he accidentally knocked some stuff off the desk. They were videos, and they clattered noisily to the floor, causing Squall to jump.

"Winhill Hotel?"

"Yes, I was wondering if I could be connected to President Laguna Loire?"

"Who is this, for security reasons?" The woman on the other end asked.

"His son, Squall Leonhart."

"Right away, sir."

Squall was put on hold, where some awful elevator music played, a keyboard instrumental of Eyes On Me. Squall rolled his eyes. The song wasn't his favourite to begin with, and this rendition of it was just terrible. Julia Heartilly would be spinning in her grave. The song brought up unpleasant thoughts about Squall's failed relationship with Rinoa, and he just didn't care for it. It was a chick's song.

"Squall?!" Laguna exclaimed into the phone, thankfully cutting off the muzack Eyes On Me. "God, are you okay?!"

"I'm fine, I'm fine..." Squall assured, his voice much calmer than his father's. "I'm just fine."

"Where are you?"

"Dollet," Squall answered, sitting on the edge of the bed again. He picked up the tapes that he'd knocked over, and looked at them. They were the tapes of Nida and Shin. He held them in his hand, something preventing him from just ignoring them. "I'm with Nida."

"Jesus..... What happened....? Did you feel that power in the air? Was it Tevedes?"

"No," Squall answered. "I don't really want to get into right now. But, Fermata's dead. I'll fill you in more the next time I see you."

"When will that be?!" Laguna demanding, huffing on the other end of the connection.

"I'm not sure. Mr. Nomura was hurt, so Nida doesn't want to leave him."

"Oh my God!"

"He'll be okay," Squall assured. "And, Nida just wants to lay low. Edea and Ellone hadn't been able to find him because he's been blocking his powers."

"Is the weather really bad there?" Laguna asked. "It actually stopped raining here. We're going to return to Esthar tonight. I need to talk to Edea and Elle."

"It's still raining." Squall opened the case of one of the videos, running a nail over Nida's familiar printing on the label.

"I hope that Rinoa made it to Deling okay."

Squall's eyebrow cocked up. "Hmmm?"

"Oh... Rinoa went to Deling. She was worried about her friends."

Something in Squall jerked. It was fear. "Shit... What a dumb bitch."

"Squall!" Laguna snapped.

"Why did she go to Deling?! Christ.... This is so like her, too." Squall gnawed his full lower lip with his teeth. "Fuck."

"Why?" Laguna sounded quiet, worried.

"Well, obviously...." He shook his head. "Deling City is Tevedes's stronghold right now. That's where the Army is centered. Has she contacted you?"

"No," Laguna answered. "But, she only left last night. She might not have gotten to Deling yet." Laguna's voice lowered. "So, did Nida absorb Fermata....?"

"Yeah," Squall answered. "He's... so powerful now...." He shook his head. "I'll talk about it with you when I see you next. Probably in a week or two. I'll keep in touch though."

"Okay. Just... be careful okay?"

".... I... I will."

"Bye." Laguna sounded reluctant, but he hung up.

"Bye..." Squall echoed to the dead line, then cradled the phone. He looked at the tape in his hands. "Rinoa, you fucking stupid cunt...." Even though he was angry with her impulsiveness, and he still felt a lot of hostility towards his ex-girlfriend, there was a small part of him that was still worried about her. "You better be okay." Squall knew he had to give Nida the heads up that Rinoa was off on her own, and he knew that Nida would want to try and save her if something went wrong. He admired that about his lover, but it also enraged the jealous part of him, it enraged the part of Squall that was deathly concerned that Nida wasn't going to survive this battle with the Inaudax. He still had to fight Kronos, Gietzen, Tempest, Valhalla, Viator, Pallas and Tevedes. That part of Squall that was so afraid of Nida's impending death was growing stronger and stronger, just as Nida's power was growing stronger and stronger.

Squall got off the bed, and hovered in the doorway of Daisuke's bedroom. It felt stuffy, so Squall turned on an oscillating fan. It was still too rainy to open the window. Squall watched Nida's father sleep peacefully for a few moments, then went back into Nida's room. He sat on the bed once more, and realized he was still holding one of the tapes. Squall knew he shouldn't watch it without Nida's permission, but pushed the tape in the VCR anyway. He turned on the TV, curious as to what Nida's last boyfriend had looked like. Nida didn't have any pictures of him around. The video was in black and white, but that only seemed to enhance the attractiveness of Nida, who was the first person Squall saw. Nida's hair had been much shorter then, and he had a Caesar style haircut. He moved his mouth to say something, but Squall didn't hear any sound. He checked the volume, and it was up. There must not have been any.

Nida's mouth moved slowly, and Squall tried to read his lips. Nida wasn't speaking English, and Squall guessed that Nida was speaking Dollet, because it was his native language. He was writing in some notebook, and had a few SeeD textbooks spread on the floor around him. Squall checked the box for the tape, and the date was almost a year before they'd graduated SeeD. The sun hit Nida's face, and curled Squall's heart, because he was so elegant, so perfect in Squall's eyes. They were in one of the cafes that bordered the Balamb Harbour. There were garden students in their uniforms wandering around, laughing to each other about something that Squall couldn't hear. A couple of them waved at Nida, and he waved back. The camera jostled a little, as it was put on a table. Then, the dark figure of who was holding the camera, obviously Shin, which was probably short for Shinji. Shin sat down, and Squall got the first look at Nida's former boyfriend, the boyfriend that Nida could have still been with if Shin hadn't been murdered.

Shin had long hair, longer than Laguna's, and it was full, straight and shiny. Beautiful Asian black hair. He had large, expressive eyes which looked very intense, glassy and hawkish. He sat beside Nida, elegantly tossing his hair over one shoulder with a flip of his head. He was wearing some sort of tailored suit, and looked extremely posh. Squall felt sad when he saw the way Shin had looked at Nida. Like he was the only person in the world, and would always be so. Everyone else didn't matter. Shin's mouth moved, his teeth pearly and straight, like a commercial for toothpaste, looking even whiter in the black and white images. Nida smiled at whatever Shin said, then started laughing, his eyes twinkling with the silent chuckles. Squall could see the students moving behind the table. They were seated at one of the tables closest to the gates that bordered off the outdoor cafe. Squall himself had actually sat at that exact table a couple times. Once on a date with Rinoa, once by himself, waiting for a SeeD ship to come into Balamb Harbour. Squall saw Shin light a cigarette, and Nida frown at him.

Nida looked a lot younger in the video. It was only about five years old, but he'd still been a teenager there, a man now. He'd grown more beautiful, an elegant beauty, the kind that Shin possessed in the video. Squall wondered how much older Shin was than Nida. Nida laughed at something, then wrote some more in his notebook. Squall saw more Garden students wave to Nida, but one in particular made Squall pay strict attention. Nida waved to the student, but the other didn't respond. Squall looked down at the buttons on the remote that he was holding in his hands, and pressed the rewind button. He saw everything move backwards. He stopped when a girl he recognized as Lavinia, a girl that had been in a couple of Squall's classes, waved at Nida. Then, the student passed again. Nida waved, but the student just gave a frown, and kept walking. Nida's face fell into a frown, and he turned back to his book, poised to write more. But, the pen didn't move. Nida's downcast almond eyes just stared at the still pen. His mouth moved into a frown, puckering in a move that Squall knew now as sadness.

Squall rewound the tape again, and watched the student walk by again, watched the crestfallen look on Nida's elfish face. When Squall rewound it yet again, he put it in slow motion. The student was so familiar because it was himself. Nida waved at Squall after Lavinia passed, and Squall watched himself snub Nida. He saw the disappointed look on Nida's face as Squall walked away without so much as a backwards glance. He saw Nida gnaw the inside of his lower lip. Squall rewound again, and paused just as Squall had snubbed his now lover. Squall touched his own lips with his fingers, scratching his mouth with his long nails. He felt the sting as the skin was broken, but it was nothing compared to the emotional sting he felt as he looked as his own face. He hadn't been scarred there, and his hair was different, shorter, less shaggy. He also had a side part instead of his standard center part. The look on Squall's face, immortalized on this black and white video, made the current Squall feel ashamed. He tasted blood on his tongue from his scratched lips. He jumped when sound finally kicked in on the tape.

"Damn, the sound was off." Shin murmured. His voice was deep, adult. He sounded like velvet, and spoke the language of Dollet perfectly. Nida himself didn't speak with an accent from Dollet. "Who was that asshole?"

Nida looked up from his paper, his eyes looking fathomless, black. Just like Iudicium's eyes. "Nobody...." Nida said, his voice sounding sad. His voice was quiet, and sounded lighter than it did now. It sounded like a teenager's voice. "Nobody," he repeated.

Squall's bleeding lips shook with shame as Shin shut off the camera. He was about to stop the tape, but it changed scenes. It was a beautifully decorated bedroom with expensive looking furniture. Nida was reclining on the bed. His hair was being blown from some source out of the picture. He was fanning himself with a piece of paper as he read a textbook, much like the scene before. But, Nida looked older, but still younger than he did now.

"You're filming again?" Nida asked. His hair looked more like it did now, short but with long, jagged bangs that hung in his eyes. "It's too hot for that right now."

"Hey, I paid good money for this thing..." Shin mused, zooming in on Nida's face. "And, you look beautiful when you study."

Nida's shirt was mostly unbuttoned, and was clinging to his ribs. He looked amazing. His bare feet dangled off the edge of the bed. "I have to concentrate."

"I'm not saying anything..." Shin mused from behind the camera. "You seem upset, though."

Nida just gave a jerky shrug of his shoulders. His chest was thinner, less developed than it was now. He had teenager muscles. "I'm just worried about the SeeD exams."

"Why? You're smarter than most of them."

"I don't carry enough presence..." Nida mused quietly, chewing on the end of his pen, a motion that wrenched Squall's heart. It was so endearing. Squall was glad that he was fluent in Dollet, and could understand what Nida and Shin were saying to each other. "People can't even remember my name."

"That's not true. I see people saying hello to you all the time."

Nida sighed, and Squall felt his heard plummet. "I had to work on a project with a group of people in Magical Defence class today. Squall couldn't even remember my name the entire project."

"Who the fuck is this Squall person?" Shin asked, moving the camera along Nida's body, laughing when Nida gave him the finger. Shin turned the camera on himself, giving it a silly look. He was very attractive, and seemed much younger than he had in the previous video. His hair was hanging around his bare chest, and Squall saw that Shin was younger than he'd thought. He didn't have the musculature of a fully grown man. He just acted more mature. "Anyone who can't remember you isn't worth your time." He winked at the camera, and turned it back to Nida.

Squall felt like garbage. Nida echoed 'right', and sighed, closing the book. "I'll never be able to remember all this shit."

"Well, if you fail, I'll always be your sugar daddy, flyboy."

Nida snorted, and started laughing. "My sugar daddy? With what? You work at a video store."

"Shhhh!!!" Shin hissed teasingly. "I have an image to maintain." The camera jostled, showing Shin's feet. He seemed to be turning the camera off.

"Do you love me?" Nida's voice echoed as the image began to fade.

"Always," Shin answered, the screen going black.

Squall bowed his head, looking at the buttons on the remote clutched in his hands. God, how could Nida stand him? Even now, he didn't remember that Magical Defence project that Nida had mentioned on the tape. Squall sat in silence, feeling horrible, and a sound caused him to look up. The tape had been playing a black screen for a good five minutes, but now, it was showing something. It was a graveyard. It was raining, and there were droplets of water on the lens of the video camera. The camera was trained on a grave that read Shinji Yokohara, and the dates beneath it. Nida's voice came through, sounding very quiet.

"I'm filming your grave because it seemed fitting to be the last thing that this camera would ever record. I'm going to burn it tonight, along with every picture I have of you. You always told me to move forward, fuck the past. So, that's what I'm going to do. But.... I'm going to keep the videos. You wouldn't have wanted me to, but I need something to remember you by." Nida stopped talking, and he sniffled. He must have been crying. "You're the only person who ever remembered me, so I need to remember you."

Squall watched, not making a single sound, almost afraid to, as if it would cause the tape to stop. He saw Nida drop some white flowers on the freshly tilled ground around the grave. "They probably won't ever find who did this to you. Maybe when I'm SeeD, maybe when I'm strong enough... I can find who did this to you." Nida's voice dropped to a whisper. "Maybe I'll be stronger than I can ever imagine now. Maybe I'll be powerful enough that nobody will ever forget my name again." The bitterness, the anger in Nida's voice cut at Squall, and he blinked back shameful tears.

"I love you," Nida said, and the screen went black. The tape stopped in the machine, and began to rewind automatically. Squall just sat there, feeling more ashamed of himself than he ever had. He thought he loved Nida, but did he really know anything about the word? He'd treated Nida so horribly, and someone like Shin had always seen the wonderful characteristics that most other people didn't see in Nida. How could the Asian man stand to be with Squall after Shin? The tape stopped rewinding, and Squall just sat there, totally ashamed of himself.

"Hey, here you are!" Nida exclaimed. Squall turned around, and Nida smiled. His expression was much lighter than it had been when he'd left the house. "Did Dad wake up at all?"

Squall shook his head slowly, getting up. "Not that I know of."

"They had the exact couch still. They just brought it over." Nida stepped into the room, shaking out his hair, which was wet from droplets of rain. Squall just watched, his throat feeling like it was full of cotton, his tongue swollen and useless in his mouth.

Nida took off his shirt, which was wet, and changed into something else. He buttoned up the shirt, which had an old Oriental pattern on it. It was getting a little small for him because he'd been working out more, and it clung to his ribs. It made Squall think of the tape where Nida had been reclining on the bed.

Nida only buttoned a few of the buttons, the rain making it feel muggy out. He noticed that Squall had a stricken look on his face, like he'd just found out someone died. "Squall, what's wrong?" He cocked his head. "Did something happen?" Dread rose in him. Then, he noticed that the TV and VCR were on. "What is it?" Nida went over to the VCR, and ejected the tape. "You watched these?" He asked, his voice taking on a bland tone.

"I'm sorry...." Squall apologized. "I knew you might get angry."

"I'm not angry," Nida assured. "Why, though?" But, anger rose in Nida briefly. "What, are you jealous of a dead person, too?"

Squall clenched his fists at his sides. He felt nothing but shame and sadness, but he held his ground. "No," Squall said, his voice very certain. "I was curious. I wanted to see what Shin looked like. I only watched that one tape."

Nida raised an eyebrow, putting the tape back in its case. "And?"

"He was very beautiful."

"You always had a thing for Asians...." Nida whispered, putting the tape on the desk.

"How can you stand me?" Squall asked.

"Huh?" Nida turned and gave Squall a confused look. That wasn't what Nida had been expecting Squall to say.

"I wasn't exactly painted in a favourable light on that tape...." Squall whispered.

Nida thought for a moment. He looked at the dates on the tape, and remembered what was on them. "Oh."

"And, I still don't remember that project you mentioned."

"That was.... the past..." Nida whispered, stepping close to Squall. "I don't feel any animosity towards you." He cocked his head. "You're bleeding!"

Squall touched his lips, and ended up breaking open the scabbed scratches again. There was dried blood on his mouth and chin, smeared around like bad lipstick. "Oh..." Squall flicked his tongue out, and caught the droplets of crimson.

Nida got a tissue, and wiped the drying smears off Squall's alabaster skin. "You should cut your nails...." Nida said quietly. "Mesu-raion," he whispered affectionately.

Squall snorted, licking at the wounds on his lips. "Shut up." He knew mesu-raion meant lioness. "He really did love you."

"I know," Nida said, his voice detached. "I loved him, too."

"He was right, you know." Squall looked at Nida sadly, adjusting his glasses on the straight bridge of his nose. "Anyone who can't remember you isn't worth your time."

Nida huffed his breath out, putting his hands on his hips. "Will you stop?" He gave Squall a hard look. "Why is it that you're always apologizing to me? You were a different person then. I wasn't the only person you treated badly, but I'm the only one that you still apologize to. It was in the past. I don't care about the past. I only care about now."

Squall pursed his lips, and they felt sore, tender. He just listened silently to Nida.

"And, all this retarded bullshit with you starving yourself because of me...." He sighed. "I mean, yeah.... I couldn't sleep well without you, but...." He spread his hands out, as if pleading. "Sometimes I don't know what to do with you, Squall."

"I give you so much grief..." Squall began to say, but Nida interrupted him.

"No, you don't. I don't think you realize that. You don't give me grief. You don't make me sad. You make me happy. True, you ignored me before, and couldn't remember me, but I admired you, and when I really started to get to know you, I loved you. I love you now. But...." He trailed off, his eyes flashed dark briefly. "Jesus Christ, Squall. Snap out of it. Stop feeling so sorry for yourself."


"Don't apologize to me!" Nida exclaimed angrily.

"What do you want me to say?" Squall demanded harshly, giving a hard look to Nida. This caused Nida to smile, which caused Squall to frown in confusion. "What?"

"You don't have to say anything to me. Just... act like yourself." He took a step closer to Squall, but didn't touch him. "I know that things have been... trying lately, but I like you better when you're yourself, you're fiery, and not looking broken-hearted and sad all the time. If I wanted someone who would fall apart all the time and act irrationally, I would have fallen in love with a woman."

Squall flinched slightly. "I know I've been acting... horribly. I....." He stopped himself from apologizing. "Lots of things have been... happening."

"I need you to be normal for me right now, okay?" Nida asked, gently demanding.

"Okay," Squall echoed.

"If you wanted to know anything about Shin, you could have just asked me."

"I'm sorry." Squall frowned. "Sorry." He shook his head, flinching.

Nida smiled gently, and cupped Squall's chin. Nida had been so beautiful in those videos, but it was nothing to his face now, how well he'd matured into his bone structure, how soulful his eyes were, how exquisite he was. "No more apologizing, okay?"

Squall nodded. "Okay."

Nida kissed Squall's lips, which still tasted like blood. "You know... Just to put you at ease... You're not the only one who has fears about our relationship."

Squall cocked his head, a silent yet questioning look on his scarred face.

Nida shrugged. "I mean, you're bisexual, and not fully gay, so I wonder if you'll eventually... miss... having a woman."

Squall made a quiet snorting noise, touching his tender mouth, which stung from the scratches, zinged from the feel of Nida's lips. "I've never even thought about it." He took a few steps forward, and pressed his chest against Nida's. The smallest of smiles tugged at his lips when Nida's arms wound around his waist. Their foreheads pressed together, and Nida slowly let out his breath. Tension seemed to melt out of his body, and he just felt tired. He closed his eyes when Squall's hands touched the sides of his neck, the long nails grazing his skin. All of Nida's muscles felt tense, on edge. He was trying so hard to keep all this power that festered inside him down. It was like a cancer, just waiting to completely invade him. He was trying to so hard not to let that happen, trying so hard....

Squall noticed that Nida became distant. He gently kissed his lover's mouth, and looked at him with confused, stormy blue eyes. "What is it?"

"Just thinking...." Nida focused his attentions on Squall again. "It doesn't matter." He smiled sadly. "Want to come see the new couch?"

Squall shook his head slowly, bowing his head into the crook of Nida's neck. He smelled like soap and rainwater. His lips moved across Nida's throat, relishing the taste of his skin, nibbling on the warm flesh. "Not really...." Squall whispered into Nida's neck.

"Not really?" Nida echoed lightly. He wound his arms around Squall's body, which still felt emaciated and skinny, but a little better than it had the day before. Nida had been cooking a lot of high fat foods for Squall to eat, to fatten him up a little bit. "It's a really... nice.... couch, though...." He huffed his breath out, throwing his head back as Squall necked him. The pleasurable feeling caused Nida to lose a bit of his restraint, his power of the Sorcery in his blood, and some of it leaked out into the air, coating Squall and himself in an invisible netting.

Squall felt it as he unbuttoned the tight shirt that Nida was wearing. It flared Griever within him, the same way that Rinoa's menstrual blood had flared Griever only days ago. He felt Nida wince against him as he pulled the other man's shirt off. Squall looked down, and saw that his nails, more like feline claws, had scratched along Nida's smooth olive skin. Small red beads welled up on the scratches, and the power in the air, and the tangy smell of blood hit Squall's nostrils, and his jaw stiffened.

Nida noticed that Squall had begun to shiver. Squall's hands shakily moved the shirt out of the way, smearing some of the blood along the way. The scratches on Nida's chest stung, but it wasn't anything he couldn't live with. The shirt fluttered to the ground, and Nida actually noticed a change in Squall's face. Not in the structure of it, but just the way he held his expression, the look in his eyes. He looked desperate, animalistic, conflicted. Nida hadn't realized that Squall was still having problems with what Griever had done to him. "Squall...?" Nida whispered as the auburn-haired SeeD fell to his knees.

Squall's tongue moved out of his mouth, and moved in lavish strokes over the smeared blood on Nida's rigid abdomen. He locked his arms around Nida's waist, mashing his mouth against the hard muscles that were encased in silky skin under his lips. The blood tasted different from his own that was still hanging like a ghost on his mouth, and it tasted far different from Rinoa's menstrual blood. Nida's blood tasted... beyond human. It still had the metallic undertone of blood, but it tasted smoky, dark. It tasted more substantial than Squall's own blood. He'd tasted Nida's blood a few times in the past when they'd played vampire games in bed, but it just tasted so strong in his mouth. It was like he was lapping up liquid magic, and heady, dark magic at that. It made Squall feel almost drunk.

Squall looked up at Nida as his tongue ran over and over the scratches he'd made on Nida's stomach. Nida was looking down at him, his eyes hooded, dark. He looked so beautiful, and yet... Squall was a little afraid of him. Squall continued to lick up and down the scratches, which were coagulating, and the blood flow was stopping. Even when there was no more blood, he continued to lick over the marks, tasting the ghost of blood. He could feel all that blood, pumping through veins, being used by hot organs, under Nida's stomach, which moved in and out with calm breaths. Squall wanted to stick his fingers in there, to touch all that heat and life, and power.

"You want to rip me apart, don't you?" Nida asked, looking down at Squall with a calm expression, like a complacent God.

Squall looked up at Nida, slowly pulling his tongue back into his mouth. He felt like he was some sort of worshipper, fallen to his knees in front of a God, face upturned to a Saviour. He didn't say anything, but he knew that it was true, knew that Nida knew that his Griever urges were starting to quiver through him.

"You want to bleed me..." Nida didn't make this a question.

Squall panted against Nida's stomach, the pants turning into low growl. He pushed Nida against the foot of the bed, and Nida fell backwards, his knees bent, calves and feet hanging over the edge of the bed. Nida watched with calm eyes, darkening with lust, as Squall crawled over him, like the lion that was trapped under his skin. Squall nuzzled into Nida's stomach, not caring that Nida was still wearing pants. He didn't have an interest in fucking at that moment. He bit into the bunched muscles of Nida's abdomen, his nails raking over the skin. He dug them in, breaking the skin. His nails were more like claws, and far sharper than a person who just had long nails. Nida winced, because the cuts did hurt, but Squall's wet tongue, moving over the cuts like a big cat, soothed the sting.

Squall dug his nails into Nida's stomach, actually ripping the skin. When the blood poured into his mouth, Squall felt dizzy. The taste was so strong, like an exquisite, expensive wine, and it went straight through his blood stream. Squall straddled Nida's hips, bowing his body forward over Nida's torso so he wouldn't have to hold himself up. The blood, Iudicium's blood, was making him drunk. Nida closed his eyes, pleasure/pain moving up and down his spine, saturating his nerves. Squall's tongue began to probe the ripped claw marks, pushing past the skin into Nida's blood, into his muscle. Squall's teeth grazed around where his mouth was lapping, and lightly clamped down in small bites. Nida wasn't afraid that Squall was going to tear him apart. He trusted his lover. And, if Squall got out of control, Nida knew he could subdue him.

Squall drank down the blood that oozed from the scars he'd made in Nida's skin, drinking down so much that his tongue, lips and throat were coated in the blood. This was far more gratifying than the taste of Rinoa's menses against his lips. Nida's blood was pure power. And, it was Nida. Squall felt more gratification from drinking Nida's blood, his lover, his life, than drinking Rinoa's blood. Squall's teeth were still latched onto Nida's skin, and he wanted to rip a piece off, but didn't. His teeth actually shook and dug deeper into the skin, breaking it, but he didn't break it off. Nida grunted underneath him, breathing out with more force. Squall dragged his nails up and down Nida's thighs, the thick fabric of his dark, hip hugging jeans, preventing Squall from scratching him.

Squall moaned, his dick hard and cumbersome in his pants.. He reared his head back, his mouth and chin smeared with bright red blood. His eyes looked glassed over, intoxicated. He looked down at Nida with hooded eyes, blood dripping from his full, sexy lips, dribbling over his chin, dropping onto Nida's blood and saliva smeared skin. Squall bared his teeth in a sort of smile, the pearly white enamel stained pink.

The room was spinning as Squall moved up Nida's body, his muscles moving like a feline, less than human. He licked over the blood again, almost passing out, black dots moving over his vision. He felt Nida's hand move into his hair, stroking it, petting him. Squall sidled up to Nida slowly, the room moving, everything blurry, even though he was still wearing his glasses. He felt Nida remove the spectacles off his face. Squall closed his eyes, blood dripping from his mouth. Nida's fingers continued to move over his hair, and now up and down his back, too. Squall made a purring noise, licking his lips, catching the droplets of blood. Nida gently pulled Squall's face down, and kissed those crimson lips, cleaning Squall with his tongue. After their lips broke apart, Squall's head drooped, and he rested it against Nida's chest, running his fingers over the healing scars, bringing his bloodied fingers to his lips, sucking on his digits.

Nida moved his thigh between Squall's legs, using it to apply pressure to Squall's genitals. Nida could feel Squall's erection through his pants. Squall made a noise between a choke and a sigh around his fingers, opening his glassy eyes, the look on his face so wanton, so sexual that it caused Nida's breath to hitch in his throat. Nida ran his hand down his stomach, and the cuts healed fully under his hand. He let Squall lick the blood smears off his palm as he used his free hand and teeth to undo Squall's pants. Nida took his hand away from Squall's mouth, and pulled Squall's pants off his skinny hips, along with his boxers. Squall's erection, now free from his pants, stood at full hardness, large and already leaking.

Nida covered the head of Squall's penis with his mouth, lapping up the precum. Squall made small noises that Nida thought were adorable, noises between chokes and whimpers. Squall's hands were raised over his head, his nails curling into the heel of his palms. Blood welled up, and began dribbling down Squall's wrists. Nida moved his head up and down, sucking Squall's cock, wrenching more adorable noises from Squall's chest. As he fellated Squall, Nida stroked his hands up and down the outer edge of Squall's thighs. It was this motion as much as the oral sex that was driving Squall deeper and deeper into the black pit of lust. Nida's hands petting him felt like Heaven, felt like feathers, like Nida's angel wings brushing against him. Through his small pants and moans, Squall formed Nida's name, the syllables falling from his crimson stained lips.

Nida continued to stroke Squall's hip with one hand, his mouth and tongue moving expertly over Squall's cock. His other hand moved down to his own crotch. Squall's toes were beginning to curl as muscles tightened throughout his body. Nida unbuttoned his own pants, and pulled his own erection out. He started jerking himself off in time with his head bobs on Squall's cock.

Squall arched his back, still drunk from Nida's blood. Everything was hazy, everything was spotty, and he was seeing double. Squall slowly opened his eyes, his eyelids feeling like they weighed a tonne. He looked down his own body, saw his erection in Nida's mouth, saw Nida jerking himself off, saw stars, saw triple, saw white, and he then fell into orgasm, Nida's blood in his veins singing with power, making him feel like was weightless, and made of lead at the same time.

Nida greedily swallowed down Squall's semen, which was bitter against his tongue. Squall began desperately moaning as Nida licked the head of his cock, which was painfully sensitive. His dick was already beginning to go soft. He whined and whimpered, his whole body shaking. He felt Nida pull off his cock, and breathe out with a moan. Although Squall could barely see, and not just because of his lack of glasses, he saw that Nida came into his own hand. Squall tried to sit up, but his body just didn't want to listen to him. He finally managed to get into a half reclined position, and dragged himself closer to Nida. He made a few moves to grab for Nida's wrist, but the room was spinning, and he missed. He caught it on the fourth try, and brought Nida's hand, fingers coated with semen to his lips. Nida kissed and stroked Squall's hair as the scarred man licked Nida's hand clean.

Nida looked into Squall's eyes, which looked distant, unfocused. "Okay...?"

"Hmmm?" Squall murmured, slumping against Nida, then to the mattress.

"Are you okay?" Nida asked again.

"Yeah...." Squall whispered, touching his lips again, the taste of semen and blood mingling in his mouth. "You taste powerful...." Squall reached his hand out, smiling sleepily when Nida took it, squeezing it.

Nida wrapped the blanket around them, curling up next to Squall. Squall fell asleep almost instantly, but Nida lay awake for a while, listening to the rain pelt against the windows. He knew that Tevedes would do something soon, but the question was... what?

Rinoa sighed, picking at some lint on her black jersey shirt. The bench was hard against her ass, and cold. She looked out into the darkened hallway from her cell. The bars cast dark shadows, and made everything look ominous, horrible. Rinoa was scared to death. She couldn't see anyone out there, but had the idea that Gietzen was hiding in the shadows. She also knew that at least one of them was a mindreader, so she did some exercises that she'd learned while hanging around Garden. They were mental exercises that could block telepathic spells. But, she didn't know how successful she was. She was terrified, and felt lonely. She wished Nida would come and rescue her, but she didn't want him to at the same time. She was a trap for him.

She banged her fists against her thighs, and got up. She began pacing. How could I have been so stupid?! Rinoa demanded of herself, pushing her bangs out of her eyes. It was a total mistake to come to Deling. She felt humiliation when she thought of Squall finding out. He'd get an 'I told you so' look on his face, and just frown at her like she was an idiot child.

"You shouldn't be so hard on yourself...." A slithery voice cooed from in the shadows. It was the calm, serene, sweet voice of Gietzen. She materialized out of the darkness, and stared into the cell at Rinoa. She had a friendly look on her face, but Rinoa knew it couldn't be real. Gietzen would still be sore about Rinoa breaking the magic barrier in Xystus, and summoning Leviathan against the shadow manipulating Sorceress. "It's not your fault that you care about your friends."

Rinoa stopped pacing, and looked out the bars at Gietzen. The woman's pale hands, even whiter against the inky black crepe of her bell-sleeved medieval style gown, were wound around two of the bars. She cocked her head, one side of her face covered by her night black hair, her dark eye glittering thoughtfully at Rinoa. "I would rather die than let you hurt Nida."

Gietzen frowned sadly. "It may just come to that, Rinoa."

Rinoa didn't like the way her name sounded coming from Gietzen's darkly painted lips. "Nida's more powerful than ever if he did kill Fermata."

"Oh, he did kill Fermata... No question about that." Gietzen ran her palms up and down the bars, the dainty silver rings on her fingers making shivering metallic noises against the iron bars. "If Fermata had won, we'd have Nida's head, and Iudicium to boot."

"Laguna will realize that I'm gone..."

Gietzen laughed quietly, almost looking at Rinoa with pity. "Laguna will be too busy with the little diversion that's being set up right now."

"Diversion?!" Rinoa went up to the bars, her scuffed black boots pounding against the cement floor of her cell. Cool, dank air was moving up the legs of her baggy navy blue jeans.

Gietzen looked into Rinoa's eyes with a depth that creeped the Asian woman out. It was so intense, like Gietzen was looking right into her brain. "Yes, a diversion." Gietzen suddenly turned to her left. She sensed someone coming before Rinoa did. Rinoa eventually heard the footsteps, and backed away from the bars, not wanting to be close to them when another Inaudax was coming. Rinoa heard the click of high heels against cement, and then saw the glitter of gold around the woman's neck. It was a pocket watch.

Rinoa was amazed at Kronos's resemblance to Quistis. Kronos however had copper hair, and was a bit shorter, but other than that, it was obvious that the Garden Headmistress was a descendant of the bespectacled woman that stopped beside Gietzen.

Kronos pushed a bag through the bars. "Here you go."

Rinoa actually shook when Kronos spoke. Her voice had such a multi-faceted timbre, was like a sultry jackhammer. She just stood there, wary of the bag.

"Take it," Kronos insisted.

Rinoa found herself moving towards the bars, towards the bag, even though she was telling herself not to. It was like Kronos's command couldn't be ignored. She grabbed the bag, and jumped away from the bars, not wanting to be near the two Inaudax. It was a non-descript paper bag, and Rinoa slowly opened it. Inside was an orange, a bottle of fruit juice, and a pink box of maxi pads.

"You're still on your menstrual stream, no?" Kronos asked blandly, like she already knew the answer to her own question.

Rinoa flushed, embarrassed that they knew that. She dumped the bag on the hard bench that would also be her bed. "What are you going to do to Laguna?" Rinoa demanded, glaring at both women.

"Don't worry yourself about that," Kronos commanded. She turned to Gietzen as if Rinoa wasn't there anymore. "Come on. Tevedes wants to talk."

"What about her?" Gietzen gestured to Rinoa.

"You're not going to escape," Kronos said to Rinoa.

Rinoa shook her head. Her mind wanted to make her body sit down on the bench like a good girl, but she pushed Kronos's voice out of her head. She was deathly worried about Laguna. What was Tevedes planning for him, for the others?

Kronos left once more. Gietzen began to follow, but she stopped. "I haven't forgotten about Leviathan, you realize." Her friendly, shy face turned hard, wrathful. She walked away from the cell, and the deep shadows followed her like a shroud. Rinoa was alone for a few moments. She was hungry, so grabbed the orange, and began peeling it. It looked fresh, and she wondered if the Inaudax would try to poison her. She perched on the edge of the bench, putting the peel beside her. She peered at the orange. It was a healthy colour, a big seedless one. It filled the cell with its tangy, delicious scent, and it caused Rinoa's stomach to grumble. She sniffed at the orange, and it smelled okay.

"We wouldn't poison you," a voice said from outside the cell.

Rinoa gasped, looking up. Pallas was leaning against the wall across from Rinoa's cell, her arms crossed over her chest, the leather of her black trenchcoat squeaking. She had a shoulder holster, and two large guns hung at her armpits. There was also a sling around her shoulders. Rinoa could see that something was strapped to Pallas's back, but since the golden-haired Amazon was facing her, she couldn't tell what it was. "Why should I trust you?" Rinoa spat.

"We need you alive, that's why."

Rinoa narrowed her eyes at Pallas, but knew it was true. "I hate you..." Rinoa hissed. She bit into the orange, her hunger winning out. She devoured the orange. Pallas didn't say anything during this. Rinoa then looked up, and gasped.

"Is this form more pleasant to you?" Pallas asked, her voice no longer that of Pallas, but that of Seifer. If Rinoa didn't know better, she would say that it was indeed Seifer Almasy that was standing in front of her cell, except that he was still wearing Pallas's clothes, still armed with Pallas's weapons. And, the eyes were off. They weren't the peridot green of Seifer's eyes, but the pale, pale, dead green of Pallas's. She couldn't change her eye colour.

"You can't fool me...." Rinoa muttered, her legs feeling shaky as she rose to her feet. Her hands were covered in orange juice, so she went to the sink, and tested the taps. The sink was old and rusted, but water came out. She let it run for a few moments, and rust tainted the water brown. But, it ran clear, and Rinoa washed her hands. "I can see in your eyes that you're not Seifer, and anyone else would be able to see it, too."

Pallas shrugged, morphing back into herself. The transformation was seamless, far more efficient than Squall's transformation from man to lion and back again. It looked painless, effortless. Rinoa just stared at Pallas, who briefly adjusted the straps and holsters that held weapons to her body.

Rinoa opened her mouth to ask about what they were going to do to Laguna, but closed her mouth again, knowing that Pallas, nor any of the other Oracles, would give her answers. She was just the piece of cheese set in the trap. She slumped on the bench, curling up in a ball, staring hatefully at Pallas, at the bars. Laguna.... I hope you're okay.

Viator shielded her eyes from the sun, even though she was wearing aviator sunglasses. She felt hot because her bright orange hair and her pointy ears were hidden under a black wool toque.

"Come on!" Valhalla ground out, her eyes also hidden behind sunglasses. She was also wearing a floppy red fisherman's hat. "We don't have all day. Someone will notice we're here soon."

Viator pointed to the Esthar walkway in front of Odine's Laboratory. They were perched on one of the highest points of Esthar, on the roof of an apartment building. "Well, Edea just came out of the Lab...." Viator smiled, her sharp canines glinting. She raised a rocket launcher, which was strapped to her arm.

"Just hurry up and let's get out of here!" Val raised her eyebrows over her sunglasses, which had cat's eye frames in clear blue. Val raised her own arm. She was armed with a grenade launcher, filled with napalm rounds. They could have just razed the city with magic, but their magical signature would be discovered. They just needed to create enough destruction to call Laguna and the others back to Esthar. Val smirked, and aimed her gun straight into the Laboratory. The napalm grenade flew through the air, and hit the roof, exploding in fire. She fired a few more. Viator fired a rocket straight into the pathway that Edea and her husband, Cid Kramer, were walking down. She fired a second rocket into a nearby building. Viator only had three rockets, so used the last one to destroy the left wing of the Presidential Palace. Val and Viator shared a look as screams echoed through the city. Val fired a few more napalm rounds into the wreckage of Odine's Lab. Horrible screaming echoed throughout the technological city.

"That should do it...." Viator mused.

"Great. Let's get the fuck out of here before someone sees us." Val snapped her fingers, and vanished into thin air.

Viator took one last look around the city, looking at the rubble where Edea and Cid had been standing. She wouldn't be able to hang around and see if either had survived. This was her family's city. Esthar was the land of the Viator family. Laguna Loire had stolen it from Adel, prevented Zell from ascending to the throne with Ultimecia. Someday they would have it back.

Zell stretched, arching his back, Seifer's chest pressing against him. They were just resting after tending to some of the people who were still suffering from ailments because of Xiphias's poison. Zell couldn't sleep, but Seifer was sleeping, his breath washing over the nape of Zell's neck. It was the middle of the night in Winhill, and everyone else was sleeping. Zell stroked the back of Seifer's hands, gently tracing the bones of Seifer's fingers and wrist. Zell was a little worried about Squall. Laguna had told them that he was in Dollet with Nida, and that's what worried him. Nida worried Zell. He'd killed Fermata, which meant that he was more powerful than ever. What did that mean for Squall? Zell didn't doubt Nida's love for Squall, but more his control over the accumulated Inaudax power. He seemed to be controlling it now, but that didn't mean he would control it forever.

This whole situation gave Zell ugly thoughts about when Adel had invaded his body, her manifested anger so strong that she couldn't control it. Zell didn't want Nida to end up like Adel, horribly mutated by the sheer size of her dark power. Zell rolled over, looking at Seifer, who looked so peaceful when he slept. Even now, even after all the stuff that had happened to Seifer in the recent past, Seifer still had that scowl that he'd always had during his Garden Cadet days. But, he didn't have it in his face when he slept. He looked serene, youthful, almost like a little boy, like the little boy that Zell had grown up with at Edea's Orphanage. Zell ran his fingers over Seifer's elegant cheekbones, and it caused Seifer to murmur something, and move his head in his sleep. But, he didn't wake up.

"You're so beautiful..." Zell whispered, continuing to touch Seifer's face. The scarred blonde frowned in his sleep, and his peridot eyes fluttered open. He murmured under his breath, scowling as he looked into Zell's icy eyes. "Why are you touching me?"

"I thought you liked it when I touched you...." Zell whispered, running the pad of his thumb over Seifer's lower lip.

"I was sleeping," Seifer muttered, closing his eyes again, scowling. His voice didn't sound that upset, though.

Zell grinned as Seifer tried to go back to sleep. He made distinct noises as he took off his belt and pants, undoing his zipper with purposeful slowness.

Seifer opened one eye, looking at Zell who was now standing beside the bed, his back turned to Seifer, stripping down to his black boxer-briefs. Seifer watched through is one open eye as Zell folded his clothes neatly, the muscles of his back moving with his motions. Seifer reached his hand out, and hooked his fingers under the waistband of Zell's underwear.

Zell turned around as Seifer pulled him backwards onto the bed. "What are you doing? I thought you were trying to sleep?"

Seifer pulled his fingers out from under the elastic, which caused the band to snap.

"Don't snap my undies!" Zell cried sarcastically, turning around. He sat on the bed, knees pointed towards Seifer, looking down at the other blonde. The distance crept into his eyes again.

"What's wrong?" Seifer asked, yawning. He closed his eyes, and moved his hand around until he found part of Zell. It was his forearm, and Seifer squeezed it.

"I'm worried about Squall."

"Why?" Seifer asked. "I think he's probably safest with Nida."

"But.... with all that power...." Zell trailed off as Seifer pulled him down. Zell's body sprawled out on top of Seifer's much longer one.

"I think even if Nida lost control of his power, he wouldn't hurt Squall. That dark power can feel love, too. I mean...." Seifer yawned again. "Ultimecia loved Tevedes, right?"

Zell just grunted. Seifer's hand moved off Zell's forearm to his taut stomach, and Zell's grunt turned into a purr.

"Want to fool around?" Seifer asked sleepily, his hand moving down, cupping Zell's genitals through the fabric of his underwear. The smaller blonde's cock twitched under Seifer's ministrations.

"You're half asleep...." Zell pointed out.

A grin spread on Seifer's lips. "Pseudo-necrophilia, baby. I could even lay in an ice bath."

"You fucking degenerate," Zell said.

"You don't sound that disgusted..." Seifer trailed off, yawning again.

Zell cocked his head as Seifer squeezed his groin. He thought about it, what it would be like for Seifer to be laying completely still while Zell molested his body. Zell was actually considering it when the door burst open, and Quistis flew in.

Seifer bolted up, which caused Zell to slide off him onto the mattress. "Jesus Christ, Quistis. Learn to knock!"

Zell covered his cloth covered erection with the sheets. "What's wrong?" He saw the dread in Quistis's cobalt eyes.

"We have to go. Now!"

Seifer's annoyance melted away, and he looked at her with worry. "What happened?"

"Esthar was bombed. Odine's Lab was destroyed, and so was part of the Presidential Palace. Ellone just called Laguna. Him and Xu are already getting the transport all set up."

"What?!" Seifer got up, rubbing his eyes. "Shit, you can't be serious."

"Was it done with magic?" Zell asked, pulling on his clothes. His erection was totally gone.

"No... A rocket launcher or something. Edea was injured. She was coming out of the lab at the time of the attack. Cid was hurt, too. Bad."

"Was it Tevedes?" Seifer asked. He was already beginning to pack. Zell started doing the same.

"We don't know for sure, but I'd say that's a good guess..." Quistis sighed, her hands shaking. "So far there are quite a few deaths. We have to get to Esthar now."

"What about Squall?" Zell asked.

"Laguna tried to call him, but no connection to Dollet could be made. It's been raining pretty bad there, so the phone lines went down. And, nobody can seem to get in contact with Rinoa, either."

"I bet that's the Inaudax, too..." Seifer quickly zipped up his suitcase. "Okay, you go get stuff together. We'll be there in a second."

"I'm going to head to Garden, and get some SeeD together to help with rescue work. I could use your help, Zell." Quistis knew that even though Seifer would be a good help, he wasn't SeeD. "What, with Squall in Dollet...."

Zell nodded. "Okay."

"Seifer, you help Xu in Esthar. Laguna will have enough on his hands with the damage to the Palace, so you guys will have to help Fujin and Raijin."

Seifer nodded.

Zell finished packing. "Okay, Quisty, I'm ready to go." He turned to Seifer. "Be careful, okay?"

Seifer nodded, and gave Zell a hasty kiss on the lips. "Are you going to send someone to Dollet to get in contact with Squall?"

Quistis nodded. "When I get back to Garden, I'll send a small ship there. I also have to find out where Rinoa is. I have a bad feeling that she's in trouble."

"Shit!" Seifer swore, covering his mouth with his palms. "If Tevedes and the others have Rinoa...."

"Maybe she went to Dollet....?" Zell offered hopefully, beginning to follow Quistis.

"I really hope she went to Dollet...." Quistis mused. "Although Squall might want to kill her, it would be the safest place for her." She shook her head. "But, she wasn't there when Squall called Laguna yesterday."

"Okay, you two go...." Seifer kissed Zell again, and watched him disappear with Quistis. He sighed, then took his bag, and tore down the stairs. Xu was waiting in the lobby, watching out the door of the Hotel. Zell and Quistis must have just left.

"Seifer," Xu greeted with efficiency. "Ready to go?"

Seifer nodded. "Where's Laguna?"

"Here!" Laguna called, racing down the stairs. His long hair was messy and dishevelled around his handsome face. "I'm just glad that Elle is safe.... She said that Irvine and Selphie weren't hurt either. But... Edea and Cid."

"Let's get going."

They nodded, and quickly went to the shore, where ships were waiting to take them back to Esthar.

Selphie stared out the window, looking down at Esthar. Parts of the city were on fire, and there were medic teams everywhere, as well as people casting Cure spells on the injured. She felt like she was in a bubble, and every sound, every sight was muted. People didn't even register to her. She knew that Irvine was around, and Ellone with her sad brown eyes. But, she just couldn't concentrate enough to think of anything to say. They always asked how she was feeling, the same questions that the doctors asked her. Selphie didn't know how to answer those questions, so she just didn't.

She didn't know if she would ever be okay. All she knew was that she was glad she wasn't under Xiphias's yoke anymore. But, what was she going to do now? She could remember her death, and now... being alive when she shouldn't be felt wrong. Everyone always said they would kill for a second chance at life. But, after being in Lillith's realm, Selphie felt like she should be there. Selphie sometimes looked around for Seifer and Zell. She'd heard background talk about them. They were just like her, back from Xystus. She wanted to talk to them.

She could hear screaming somewhere in the distance, and someone crying. Children's tears.


She turned around, and saw Irvine standing there, his cowboy hat in his hands. He always stood that way when he talked to her.

"You should probably be in bed."

"The Inaudax did this...." Selphie whispered. Her voice was croaky in her throat from a lack of use.

"Yeah, they did." Irvine took a step towards her. "How do you feel?"

She just sighed, turning to look out the window again.

"Selphie, are you okay?" Irvine asked again. He stood next to her. He raised his hand to touch her shoulder, but thought against it and dropped his arm to his side.

"I wish everyone would stop asking me that...." She whispered. "Do I look like I'm fine? Do I act like I'm fine?"

Irvine stared at her, for this was the most she'd talked since she'd woken up. "At least you're talking... awake...."

"Yeah..." She muttered blandly. "At least I'm talking." She touched the glass with her hand. Her nails were longish and needed to be cut. "Matron...." Selphie whispered.

"Huh?" Irvine cocked his head, looking down at his former girlfriend.

Selphie didn't say anything else. Irvine followed her emerald gaze, and saw a medical team bringing a stretcher into the Palace. The medical facilities within the building hadn't been destroyed. Edea was on one of the stretchers. "Oh, God...." Irvine whispered. Ellone was running beside the medics, occasionally saying something to soldiers that stopped her. After a few minutes, the medical team came down the hallway.

"Elle, what happened?" Irvine asked, seeing Edea on the stretcher. She was cut and bruised pretty badly, blood covering her face and body. Her head was slowly moving back and forth.

Ellone gave Irvine a somewhat angry look, then looked over to Selphie. "Not now, okay?!"

"Cid....?" Edea called weakly, coughing, spitting up some blood.

"Shhhhh...." Ellone whispered, taking Edea's pale, spindly hand. "We're going to take care of you, okay?" Ellone's eyes looked haunted, and Irvine knew her well enough to know that it wasn't a good sign.

"He's dead... isn't he?" Selphie asked quietly, continuing to stare out the window.

"Cid?!" Edea exclaimed.

"Shhhh.... don't talk now," Ellone said. She gave a hard look to Selphie and Irvine. She began to follow as the medics wheeled Edea's stretcher to one of the rooms, but stopped when the walkie-talkie on her hip beeped. "Yeah?" She asked wearily, bringing it to her mouth.

"Laguna, Xu and Seifer just arrived. Quistis took Zell and went to Balamb Garden," the crackly voice on the other end informed.

"Seifer....?" Selphie echoed, turning around, looking at Ellone.

"Okay... What about Squall?"

"He's in Dollet. That's apparently where Nida is, too. But, because of all the rain, we can't make contact with either Dollet or Galbadia. Apparently, Miss Heartilly is in Deling City."

Ellone sighed. "Okay. Thanks." She put the radio back on her belt. "Thank God Uncle Laguna's back."

"Elle....." Irvine trailed off. He put a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off, her deep doe brown eyes tortured, conflicted.

"I have to check on Matron." She turned and disappeared into the room that Edea had been brought into.

"She seems angry with you...." Selphie murmured, turning back to the window. She shivered, and wrapped her blanket tighter around her shoulders.

Irvine sighed, his shoulders slumping. He looked to Selphie, but her eyes were transfixed on the damage to Esthar, watching the fires being put out, smoke rising to the skies.


She didn't respond. They stood in silence for a long time. Some commotion outside caused Irvine to look out the window. Laguna was coming towards the Palace, Seifer and Xu with him, as well as a small band of soldiers.

"Sir Laguna...." Selphie whispered, tapping the glass with her nails.

It didn't take long for Laguna to come through the hallway. "Where's Edea?" Laguna demanded of Irvine.

"She's in there. Ellone's in there, too."

"Cid is dead," Selphie whispered.

"Selphie...?" Seifer whispered. This was the first time he'd seen her awake since the horrible day in the Centra Ruins when Ultimecia, in his body, controlling his mind, had impaled her.

The small brunette slowly turned around, and stared at Seifer. Her eyes widened a little bit, and her lips parted.

"Come on, Xu...." Laguna said quietly. "We should see how Edea is."

Xu just nodded silently. "Irvine... Come on."


Seifer turned to face him. "No, it's okay.... Go."

He just stared silently, then followed Laguna and Xu.

"Are you going to take me back....?" Selphie asked quietly.

"Back.....?" Seifer echoed, looking down at the much shorter woman. "To Xystus, you mean?"

Selphie nodded, almost eagerly. She took a step towards Seifer.

"No... I won't be taking you back. I'm not part of... that... anymore."

Selphie cocked her head. "What....?"

"How are you.... since Xiphias died?"

"Everyone asks me that...." She sighed. "But, they never mention Xiphias's name to me. Like they're trying to avoid it."

"You won't go back, at least not with me."

Selphie made a small, indiscernible noise in the back of her throat, and turned to the window again. Seifer remained standing where he was, staring at the back of Selphie's head. But, she became unresponsive, almost like a child pouting because she wasn't getting what she wanted. Selphie heard Seifer turn on his heel and walk away. After he'd vanished, she pressed her palm and forehead to the cool glass, whispering "Why can't I go back?"

Rei Nomura had just gotten back from one of their group therapy sessions, and was going back to her room, where she could watch TV in peace, and sneak warm sips of whiskey from the flask hidden in her mattress. When she stepped into her room, she gasped in fright, then frowned. "You scared the Hell out of me, Nida."

Nida looked up. He was sitting on the edge of Rei's bed, the silver flask in his hand. He took a swig of the alcohol. "Sneaking booze, Mother?"

"Come here to criticize me?" Rei asked caustically, snatching the flask out of her son's grip. When her fingers brushed Nida's, she snatched her hand back. It was almost like she'd touched an animal, and it had reared its head to bite her. Nida's coat and umbrella had water droplets on them. "Braved the storm to visit your poor old Mommy, did you? How thoughtful..." She flounced onto the bed. "Or, did your father send you here to spy on me?"

"I came on my own. He doesn't know I'm here." Nida crossed his arms over his chest. "I just came to check on you."

She snorted, taking a drink. "Why?"

Nida bit the inside of his lip. "I was worried about you. I don't know why I should be."

Rei looked around, the booze already starting to make her feel warm, especially since she'd been sneaking drinks all morning. "So, where's your pretty little... friend?" She sneered out the last word.

"You're such a bitter old woman." Nida felt his anger beginning to rise, and had to quash it.

"Why shouldn't I be bitter?" Rei demanded, her beautiful face twisted into an ugly mask. "You locked me in this prison. You and your father."

"I had nothing to do with putting you here," Nida answered simply. "And, Dad had to. You were the one who locked yourself up here."

"I don't need you giving me this holier than thou attitude, Nida." She turned on the television. "So, why don't you run home to Daddy?"

"They might come and kill you...." Nida was trying really hard not to get angry with his mother, but gossamer threads of his power were leaking out.

Rei was about to ask what Nida was talking about, but she stopped. She could feel the magic in the air. It was black and ugly, so thick and powerful. Even this little bit of power would have been enough to destroy Nida in his empathic state. She looked at her son like she'd never seen him before. The power was coming from him, and the doe brown of his eyes was now a shimmering onyx black. "What are you?"

"I'm your son," Nida answered.

"You shouldn't have bothered," Rei muttered. "You can't try and scare me with these little parlour tricks of yours, Koneko." She snorted, her voice slurring. "No wonder you're a faggot."

"You miserable old bitch."

Rei laughed, swigging out of her flask. "Sticks and stones may break my bones...." She gave Nida a hard look. "You shouldn't worry about me, because I don't worry about you. Your father was the one who wanted you, so he can have you. I don't need either of you."

Nida lost control of his power for a brief second, but wrestled with himself to gain control again. A few black feathers appeared in the air, and gently floated down to the ground and the bed. Rei touched one, picking it up.

"You've become a freak, Nida. An even bigger freak than you always were. Didn't you ever think that I drank myself into this hellhole because of you? Because you destroyed me? I could have been so much besides a mother and a lawyer's wife, but then I got stuck with you." She dropped the feather to the ground, because it felt hot in her hand. "You're nothing but a monster now, and I'm sure your pretty little 'boy' friend will realize that soon."

"Shut up," Nida hissed.

Rei took another drink. "Daddy's little angel, bane of Mommy's existence." She turned her face to the television, her profile set and hard. "Poison to all."

"Shut up," Nida hissed again. Rei felt the air become heavy with black magic. She heard Nida take a couple steps towards the bed, and felt a shadow move over her, too large to be Nida. She looked, and her drunken eyes widened when she saw Nida staring down at her, his face set like stone, looking down at her with pitch black eyes, a statue, Godlike and monolithic. The wings that hung on his back, spread around him as if in flight were so large, the black feathers looking wet. Rei heard dripping on the floor, and saw that the feathers were crying blood, dripping with it, so dark that it didn't look human.

The power in the air felt so strong that Rei lost her breath. "You monster....." Rei whispered, the silver flask of whiskey dropping to the floor, the amber liquid spilling onto the tiled floor. "Oh God...."

"Kall for God all you want," Nida said quietly, his voice no longer his own. For the briefest second, Rei saw the face of a woman rather than Nida. The face of a ghostly white woman, translucent white hair spilling all around her snowy shoulders. "I am the only one you will get." Nida didn't even have to raise his arms. The power that spilled out of him was enough to stop Rei's heart in her chest. She clutched at her breast, gasping for air. But, all that filled her lungs was this power, so thick, like a living thing. She fell to the floor, her cheek landing in the pool of whiskey from the dropped flask. She felt a few black feathers drop on her face, soft and ticklish, yet smearing blood on her skin.

Rei looked up at Nida as her vision went black. His black eyes and moulting wings were the last things she saw before the flap of black, and the pale face of a hooded woman with coppery hair filled her vision, the beautiful female reaper and the distant caw of a raven welcoming her death.

Daisuke slowly opened his eyes, his head pounding, a fierce headache moving behind his eyes. The room was in dull shadows, and he could hear heavy rain outside, accompanied by the occasional clap of thunder. He could hear some sort of movement downstairs, and could smell coffee. He slowly got out of bed, the room spinning momentarily. He had to grip one of the posts on the bed so he wouldn't fall over. He couldn't really remember what happened, but as he thought about it, images in his memory began to cement themselves once more. He remembered beautiful singing, beautiful singing that had sent pain like he'd never known through his body.

Daisuke used the bathroom, and brushed his teeth. He stumbled around his room, finding his glasses on the dresser. He put them on and the room came into sharp focus. The smell of food from downstairs made his empty stomach grumble, so he put on his burgundy silk robe and slowly went down the stairs, clutching the banister. But, he felt good to be moving around. His legs felt weak and a little like cooked pasta, but at least he was moving. He got downstairs, and went to the kitchen. Squall was sitting at the table, his chin cupped in one hand, his nails freshly cut. He was staring out the window at the rain and dark clouds, in deep thought. Squall turned his head, blinking behind his glasses when he saw Nida's father come into the kitchen. "Mr. Nomura...?"

"Squall... Hello." Daisuke looked around. "Where is Nida?"

"He left. He said something about checking on his mother."

Daisuke stopped moving, and trained Squall with a shrewd look. "He did?"

"I think he's worried about her.... Especially after what happened with Fermata."

Mr. Nomura poured himself some coffee, and sat at the table, across from Squall. "What are you doing here? Nida mentioned that you had a falling out."

A blush of shame crept into Squall's pale cheeks, but it vanished quickly. "Yeah... We did. But, it's behind us. I came because I was worried about him..." Squall looked out the window again. "I guess he doesn't need my help, though." Squall turned again to face Daisuke. "Are you okay?"

"I'm a bit woozy, but I'll live." Daisuke noticed that Squall looked skinnier than he had the last time he'd seen him. His cheeks also looked a bit more hollowed. "What happened?"

"You can't remember?" Squall asked.

"Bits and pieces. I'm sure I'll remember eventually."

Squall sighed. "Well, by the time I got here, Fermata and Nida were already fighting..." Squall filled Daisuke in on all the stuff about the Inaudax, and about what happened during the fight.

"All I really remember is singing, and then this horrible pain..." Daisuke paused, taking a drink of his coffee. "And, Nida....." He sighed. "He had wings. And, he looked so...... terrible." He almost winced at the word. "My own son frightened me."

Squall and Daisuke shared a look. "I know...." Squall whispered. "I know."

"So... what next?" Daisuke asked quietly, breathing in the fragrant smell of his coffee.

"I don't know...." Squall said quietly.

They both looked up when they heard the front door open. Squall got up quickly and went to the hallway. Nida was closing his umbrella, and taking off his wet jacket. Squall went to him. "Hey...." He greeted quietly, sharing a quick kiss with his lover.

Nida gave a heavy sigh, and held Squall tightly to him.

"What's wrong?" Squall asked quietly, feeling sadness in Nida's muscles.

"Just hold me...." Nida whispered. "Please?"

Squall did what Nida commanded, kissing his lover's hair, cheeks and forehead. "Your father woke up..." Squall said gently. He frowned though, feeling the ghost of Iudicium hanging from Nida like a tattered cloak. "How did it go with your mother?"

Nida looked into Squall's eyes, his gaze haunted. "Oh....."


Nida pulled away from Squall, and regarded his father, who was leaning against the wall, but still had a strong expression on his face. "How was your mother, Koneko?"

Nida's lower lip quivered. He took some small steps towards his father. "I'm so sorry....." Nida whispered. Nida's eyes flashed black for a moment, then went back to doe brown, watery with unshed tears. "She's..... She's dead, Dad."

"What?" Daisuke gave Nida a confused look. "How? Was it... Fermata?"

Nida shook his head. He moved past Daisuke and sat on the new couch. He covered his face with his hands, and silently began weeping. Mr. Nomura sat beside his son, gently touching his shoulder. "What happened?"

"I don't know..." Nida whispered. "I went to check on her because I was worried that the Inaudax would do something to her, or had already done something to her. She hid booze all over the room, so was pretty drunk, and she just started saying things to make me angry...." His words were muffled by his hands. "I'm so sorry...." He started crying quietly, his shoulders shaking. "I didn't mean to."

Daisuke wrapped his arms around Nida's shoulders, and cradled his son. Nida wept into his father's chest, murmuring incoherently.

Squall stepped into the living room, just watching Nida be comforted by his father. It made him miss Laguna. His heart broke for Nida. Although he didn't know what happened, he could sense, from that ghostly feel of Nida's power, that Nida had lost control of his power and the power killed Rei Nomura.

Daisuke held Nida until he stopped crying. "Tell me what happened," he said quietly.

Nida wiped his tears off his face, and looked to Squall over the back of the couch. "I went to visit her, and she was being a miserable old woman, and I was trying so hard to keep my composure..." As Nida spoke, Squall sat beside him on the cock, cocking his head and watching Nida speak. Nida continued. "And, it just got harder and harder to do so. She started calling me a freak and a monster, and I just.... I just....." He sighed.

"It wasn't your fault...." Squall whispered, tucking some of Nida's ebony hair behind his ears.

"I told the nurse...." Nida looked at his father. "But, I just couldn't tell them what I did.... They said she had a heart attack." Tears escaped his eyes again. "I'm so sorry...."

"Nida...." Daisuke didn't even really know what to say.

"What am I going to do? I can't control myself anymore. How can I be around anyone?" Nida stared off into space, feeling Squall's hand on his leg. "How can I be around you? How can I go back to Esthar? How can I face Laguna, Seifer... Rinoa...?"

"Fuck!" Squall exclaimed, slapping his forehead. He felt a little embarrassed about swearing in front of Nida's father. "I forgot about Rinoa...."

Nida opened his mouth to ask what Squall was talking about, but a deafening clap of lighting tore through the sky. The rain began to pour outside, and they all heard the loud banging of hailstones against the windows and roof.

"What the...?" Daisuke heard car alarms going off outside.

"Tempest...." Nida whispered.

"I completely forgot!" Squall stood up, and began pacing. "Fucking stupid Rinoa...."

"Rinoa?" Nida asked, confused. "What about her?"

"When I talked to Laguna yesterday, he said that Rinoa left Winhill a little after I did, and she was going to Deling City."

"What?!" Nida stood. "Oh, fuck...."

"That dumb bitch.... She wanted to go see her friends, to check on them or whatever. I'm sure that Tevedes....."

Nida raised his head, listening to the hail. There was the sound of breaking glass from upstairs. "They have her...." He balled his hands to fists. "They have her."

Squall bit his lip angrily. They were using Rinoa as a trap for Nida, and it was going to work. Squall knew Nida would go to Deling to find Rinoa, and maybe more importantly, to kill more Oracles. "They're just using her for bait Nida."

"I know....." Nida whispered, his voice very quiet, his eyes black.

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