Sins of the Living
Chapter 1 - walk in the garden
Panting a little, Squall dodged reflexively as the T'Rexaur tried to tear his head off. It roared in animal rage when it didn't connect, and he used the motion to slice swiftly at the descending head. The baleful eye disappeared in a crimson rush and the creature reared back, screaming in pain. Squall watched dispassionately, and as the tender belly was exposed he lunged forward for the kill. He stepped to the side as the body crashed to the ground, cleanly finished. A moment or two later the body dissolved into the holographic mist it was.
Squall ran a careless hand through his damp hair, dislodging the crested spikes that had formed. He lowered the gunblade until he leaned on it casually, letting the heat of the fight dissipate along his bones. He deliberately carried no healing spells, letting the ache and weariness settle in. He had been in the training center for about an hour and this was his seventh kill. A few more, and he might be able to shake the smothered rage that trembled through his body and denied him sleep.
It wasn't Rinoa really, although if he was going to be honest with himself, the conversation he'd had with her today was at least part of his insomnia. A mocking smile touched his lips, bitter and self-directed. It had been nearly a month since she'd left Garden to visit with her father. They'd talked a few times since she’d left, but today they had both finally admitted that she just wasn't coming back. Grief and guilt stabbed at his heart, his hand clenching on the hilt of his weapon. Her sad face had struck straight through to his still heart, but there was nothing he could do to mend her disappointment. She deserved more than he could give and although he’d sworn he would always be her Knight, he could give her nothing else.
He closed long eyes, letting that dull misery merge with the ache of his body. What was the difference really? Pain was pain after all.
At the beginning it had been everything he'd secretly hoped it would be. After all the weeks of terror and danger, they had fallen into each other like everyone expected they would, including Squall himself. Wasn't it supposed to be his reward, to make up for all the savagery and pain he had endured? It had all the makings of a fairytale story after all. For a little while, he had really dared to believe that she was the one, the promised angel that would make everything right and save him from himself.
It was the perfect ending after all, the prince and princess riding off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Problem was, he wasn't even close to the prince in the tale and the princess had finally ridden off without him. It wasn't her fault and it probably wasn't even his. It didn't make the pain any less or soften the grief of another hope that died, strangled by his own failings.
The bushes rustled menacingly to his right and his casual grip on Lionheart tightened. His lean body began to tighten in an anticipation that was rewarded when a blue hexadragon slithered into view, its heavy body weaving in a deceptively slow way. The blunt head snaked forward, its tongue testing the air for prey.
It was late, the training center technically deserted, so he'd told the controlling computer to up the ante and bring the skill level of the monsters closer to his own need for slaughter. He was so far beyond the student exercises that he would have laughed if it wasn’t something closer to tears. So much death, in so short a time, dealt with such brutal necessity from his hand. It was a friend to him now, perhaps a truer friend than most. It was a voice he'd learned to understand intimately during those long weeks and now whispered almost incessantly in his mind.
Looking at the creature that scented his living blood and began to stalk towards him, he could only admire its nature. It never questioned, never cared about ethics or morality. He lived and that made him prey, enough reason for the dragon to kill. And sometimes, that was reason enough for Squall himself, and in his calmer moments that frightened him more than Ultimecia ever had.
His lips quirked in a savage smile and he saluted the creature with an upraised gunblade. He flowed into the attack, letting memory and instinct guide him through the battle. The fighting was all that was left to him now, the blood and the rage and the pain merging into such a fierce sensation that he craved it more than any drug. He deliberately carried no potions, junctioned no cures or healing magic. He wanted the fight without barriers, without any restrictions on his skill or desire. He would win or he would die; no more middle ground, no more fallback positions.
In the back of his mind, Shiva stirred at his bloodlust and spread her beautiful fingers. Her laughter thrilled along his soul but he refused her release, letting the cold wind crest only in his mind. Ice shivered along his spine but he knew her tricks and deceits and kept her locked away from the heat and battle that she craved no less than he. He could feel her gentle malice like a taste in the back of his throat, but with a lingering caress along his blood, she subsided and left him alone to finish exorcising his demons.
The dragon was hard to kill, but he had gone so far beyond what was human that the outcome was inevitable. He collected a few more bruises and a thin line of blood that trickled down his side, but eventually it lay dead at his feet. It took with it another measure of his confusion and pain, and for that at least he was grateful.
Panting overtop the body, the sweet smell of his own blood filled his nostrils. The body dissolved into swirling sparks, true to its illusionary nature. He licked dry lips, rolling his shoulders with unconscious grace to ease the strain of wielding Lionheart. Its shimmering length beguiled and damned him, such a perfect weapon for killing. Bemusedly, he raised its gleaming blade, remotely admiring its beauty as it reflected his dead eyes back to him.
Blue flames flickered along its length, so far modified from its original utilitarian blade that it seemed like something out of legend, not the weapon that had kept him alive through a War that he had not wanted to fight. Perhaps it would indeed be legend one day; he'd already stumbled across love poems on the student bulletin boards dedicated to it. Although, from the gist of them, it was hard to tell which of his weapons the students were admiring. The memory brought a faint but real grin to his face, if only briefly, and he let the gunblade dangle again. Lionheart was just the outward reflection of what he'd done to himself, even if he was the only one that seemed to realize it with all its final implications. Rinoa had perhaps guessed some of it, for she had been closest to him at the end and had stayed for as long as she could bear in the aftermath.
He closed his eyes in pain, the grin wiped off his face as if it had never been. He'd wanted to be there for her, but he'd sacrificed so much of himself at the last that he really didn't know if there was anything left. As much as she had wanted to save him, there were only jagged shards of his life left. Shards that gentle, caring Rinoa couldn't handle without cutting herself to the bone.
At the last she had still been trying to mend the pieces she could see until Squall had told her to leave, to take some time away to visit her family. She had protested but he had insisted, knowing that if she stayed he would continue to tear her apart with all those cruel slivers of himself.
Finally, she had gone and silence had descended again on his heart. One week had drifted into two, into three and then this afternoon's call had sealed it. He had wished her well, wished her safe and happy and had kept all his darkness well away from his face and eyes. It was only when her face had faded from the screen that he knew himself lost.
It wasn't fair, was it, to have suffered so much and still be denied the promised reward. Although in truth she was not anyone's reward to give, not a prize to be won and then displayed like a trophy. And while the rational part of his mind knew it for truth, the rest of his mind wailed its grief. If Rinoa had tried and failed to mend what had broken, then there was no hope of redemption anymore. No hope at all.
He lifted Lionheart in a hand of steel, and stalked off into the underbrush. Some pain could be laid to rest, if only for a night, and he was nearly tired enough to sleep. Blood was needed; blood to wash away his sins and drown himself in crimson forgiveness. He stepped out of the small clearing, the bushes rustling faintly, and was gone.
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