(Note: This story is the second part of the story #1 Crush by J. Marie. Her story should be read first.)
Soldier Through This
By Scarlet Fever
"Laguna, do you really think that you're making sense?" Kiros asked, his arms crossed over his lithe chest. "I mean, we know this woman has something to do with Donovan. I think you're just hallucinating everything else."
"I know what I saw, Kiros..." Laguna trailed off, slowly spinning around in his chair, his mind distant. "Julia..." He trailed off.
"Stop!" Kiros exclaimed, exasperated. He put his hands on the back of Laguna's chair, stopping the spinning. "You're making me motion sick. Julia is dead. This woman has something to do with Donovan. Last time I checked, he couldn't summon ghosts."
"I know...." Laguna trailed off. However, Kiros gleaned from Laguna's tone that he didn't in fact know it. Laguna's aquatic eyes stared off into the distance, and Kiros could only sigh helplessly, not sure what he was should say or do. It wasn't really like Laguna to be so morose. It didn't suit his normally smiling features. And, the fact that Laguna was so caught up in memories of Julia Heartilly worried Kiros. That should have been a part of Laguna's past that was long gone, especially after Raine, especially after all this time.
"Laguna..." Kiros trailed off.
"I know what you're going to say!" Laguna exclaimed. "That I'm stupid for seeing a parishioner of Julia Heartilly!"
Kiros rolled his dark eyes. "That's apparition, Laguna."
"What did I say?"
"Parishioner? It's not like this woman is going around erecting churches."
"This has nothing to do with me getting aroused, Kiros!"
The sinewy man paused, confused. He just raised his hands to his face and snorted into them. "I give up. I give up."
"I wouldn't put it past Donovan to use my past feelings against me."
"That's just it...." Kiros murmured. "You shouldn't have any past feelings. What about Raine? What about....?" Kiros trailed off.
"What about what?" Laguna asked, slightly spinning his chair again. "Kiros?"
Kiros waved a hand. "It's nothing." He turned away from Laguna, who was spinning his chair again, and stared out the window, overlooking Esthar. They were waiting for Squall to show up with some SeeD reinforcements. Kiros bit the inside of his lip, gnawing it thoughtfully. He'd almost let it slip, almost saying 'What about me?' Kiros wondered how someone as dense as Laguna got to even be President of Esthar in the first place. Kiros and Laguna had been friends for over twenty years, and Laguna had yet to pick up on Kiros's affection for him. Maybe Laguna just didn't want to see it, especially if he still had long forgotten feelings for Rinoa's mother. Kiros knew that Laguna had been infatuated with the lovely Julia long ago, but didn't realize that those feelings were strong enough to make an appearance again.
"What?" He asked, turning to face Laguna.
"Where did you go? I was calling your name for like fifteen seconds." Laguna cocked his head. "What is it?"
"Just thinking..." Kiros trailed off. "We need to put things into motion, you know...."
"I know, Kiros... I know." Laguna sighed. "I'm not stupid, you know?"
"Really?" Kiros smirked. "You sure go to great lengths to prove that wrong."
Laguna kicked out his leg, almost sliding out of his chair, missing Kiros by a good amount. "You're so mean to me, Kiros!"
Kiros just laughed, loving how innocent Laguna could still be. It was part of his unique charm that most people didn't seem to really understand. He stopped laughing when the door opened, and Squall came in.
"Squall's here..." Laguna whispered, sitting up in his chair.
"I can see that. I'm not blind," Kiros pointed out, rolling his eyes for emphasis.
"Shut up!" Laguna hissed, turning to face Squall, a smile on his face.
He was as impassive as stone. As cold as steel. And twice as sharp. It was odd, Laguna Loire thought to himself as his son entered the room, how Squall Leonhart could look so much like him, yet act so completely different. The hair was a shade lighter, a rich chocolate colour, the eyes a mood-changing blue, and his skin a bit darker, yet still a creamy porcelain. But it was in the face, and the willowy build, that Squall resembled his father the most. The delicate, ethereal, almost doll-like beauty of his father.
Behind the SeeD commander, trailed two other SeeDs. One was known to Laguna, a hyperactive blonde punk named Zell Dincht. If it wasn't the clothes or the odd facial tattoo that gave away his punk disposition, it would have to be his hair, that through techniques unknown to Laguna, managed to defy gravity by sticking straight up.
And the third SeeD to enter Laguna's office.... well.... His appearance could have been the exact reason why Laguna fell backwards from his chair, screaming unintelligibly.
Laguna's presidential aide, and long time friend, Kiros Seagill, while managing to remain standing, gaped at the third SeeD in complete shock.
"While I know that my dashing appearance has caused many women to swoon at my feet, the least of which being Squall's current girlfriend, I'm rather unused to men swooning over me," the third SeeD said in a bemused tone of voice. If it were possible for Squall to look even more sour, the mention of his girlfriend had the expression of his face change to that of a man sucking on lemons.
Laguna made it to his feet. He was about to say something, his hand hovering over the button to summon his guard, until Kiros silenced and stilled him with a feather light gesture to the raven-haired man's lip. "Eyes, Laguna. Look at his eyes. And the scar. And the fact that he's young enough to be your son. He's not him," Kiros said sternly.
All three of the younger men looked a little confused. Laguna turned his face, studying the third SeeD, his expression of fear and loathing relaxing. "But he looks just like him....." Laguna said quietly.
"But it's not him. Not even Donovan Aufgerbrochen could defy time. This is a boy. Maybe a relative," Kiros said confidently, turning his attention to the third SeeD.
The term 'boy' was not quite apt to describe him. He was a man, although young. The third SeeD was tall, over six feet. His hair was golden blonde, as opposed to blonde. His eyes were of a pale green colour, that in some lights could be mistaken for blue. His body, even though hidden beneath a grey trenchcoat with a blood red cross sword symbol on the sleeves, was sculpted and muscular. But it was his face. His chiselled, beautiful face that startled the two older men. Not even the facial scar across his features marred his beauty. A beauty without sacrificing masculinity, but beauty all the same. His face seemed more appropriate for a Nordic god than a mere mortal.
"Well, I expect I should introduce him, since he's causing such a stir, as usual. Dad, Kiros, this is Seifer Almasy, former Sorceress' Knight. He was brainwashed and controlled into the job, same as Edea. But I confess that I have no clue why his looks should be such a cause for concern amongst you two," Squall said, in his even monotone, that threatened to be musical if he ever put forth an effort.
Seifer smirked at his introduction, giving both Kiros and Laguna the eye. He leaned over slightly, placing an elbow on Squall's shoulder, causing an expression of supreme irritation to pass across the brunette's porcelain face. "I don't know, Squall. I used to think you looked like a girl, but your dad has just made me realize that there are really men out there who could slip into a dress, and pass as a woman, without any other alteration," Seifer purred wickedly.
Laguna blinked slowly, not completely getting the gist of Seifer's statement. Kiros narrowed his dark eyes, fixing them sternly on the arrogant blonde. Zell rolled his eyes and plopped down in a chair, pulling out a Gameboy to preserve him from boredom. Squall tilted his shoulder, causing Seifer to slip off him, and almost fall over until he regained his equilibrium. Seifer gave Squall a half-angry, half-amused expression.
"Seifer, if you could manage to keep your own counsel on my father's appearance, I would not only be pleased, but downright euphoric," Squall said, his tone a little more animated than normal. Even if it was dripping with sarcasm, at least it wasn't monotone. Laguna blinked. He'd never heard his son sound sarcastic before. Even when he made sarcastic comments, it was in a monotone.
"Ooooh. Big words. Guess you feel it necessary to use big words. It's only natural to compensate for having a small-" Seifer began before Squall turned a baleful glare on him. Seifer Almasy was the type of man that couldn't be silenced easily, much less with a look. But Squall was downright gifted in the killer glare department. Seifer went silent, rolling his eyes and looking upward. Laguna was almost dazed. He'd never even seen Squall with a passionate expression before. Even if it was anger, it was still a form of passion and Squall was not a passionate man.
"You two don't seem to get along very well," Kiros observed.
Squall sighed, his expression returning to it's normal sour expression. "Who do you think gave me this scar? And who gave him his? I guess you could go so far to say he was my childhood rival," Squall shrugged, while Seifer worked his jaw. Zell snorted, never looking up from his videogame.
"Was?" Laguna asked, startled slightly by this revelation. The similarities were creepy.
"I'm now the SeeD commander. I take orders only from headmaster Cid, and he rarely sees fit to do so. I am the top ranking SeeD in Balamb Garden, and SeeD in general. What he had once, I got all the time. Rivalry? I blew him out of the water. You have to be at the same level to be rivals," Squall said calmly, the slightest hint of a smirk on his generous pink lips. Seifer scowled deeply, and actually growled back in his throat, shooting Squall a look that should not only have killed, but disintegrated him. Zell was chuckling.
Laguna blinked. Squall was rubbing it in. He was actually smug. Laguna was bewildered. He prided himself on being one of the few human beings who could see past Squall's cold exterior. And he'd never seen Squall like this. He'd never seen Squall react emotionally to anyone or anything, even Rinoa or Ellone. When Laguna had revealed his paternity to Squall, the sultry brunette had taken it in stride, seeming only mildly surprised. He was neither happy or unhappy to discover he had a father. He was neither warm or cold to Laguna. His neutrality frustrated Laguna most times.
"But I want to know why you two freaked out over me. You acted like you'd seen a ghost," Seifer was saying. Laguna's attention was diverted to the handsome blonde. Laguna frowned, and exchanged a glance with Kiros, who gave a shrug that said, Go ahead and tell them. It couldn't hurt, given what's happening.
"You look exactly like a man I knew. Know. Whatever," Laguna sighed. He noticed Seifer's eyes sparkle when he said 'whatever'.
"Go on," Seifer encouraged, waving his gloved hand. The haughty gesture made Laguna nervous, reminding him of another.
"When I say exactly, if it weren't for the fact that your eyes are green, not purple, and that you have a facial scar, you'd be twins. That and the fact that Donovan is old enough to be your father..." Laguna trailed off, the possibilities of what he said dawning on everyone in the room.
"Tell me more," Seifer said, his tone free of his bravado, urgent with curiosity.
"He... Well, I had my rival too. In the Galbadian Army, when I was a youth. We started together in the same division, Donovan and I. Donovan used a gunblade, like you two do. A hard weapon for a hard man. I guess he never liked me... I was too different from him. I like to smile, joke, play around. He was all business. But it got worse when we were sent to capture a village. He was needlessly killing people. Torturing, pillaging, raping. I tried to stop him and we fought. He won. I almost died. When I got better I was put in a new division, with Ward and Kiros.... It was okay for a while, until Donovan was promoted, and placed in charge of our division. He was a tyrant. He couldn't stand me, because I never sat there and took his orders. He was a cruel bastard, and I fought back... He got really pissed when I had his promotion board pass him over, when I told them of some of the stuff he would do. And then I got put in charge of the division, and they moved him to another. The rest of my career in Galbadia, Donovan took every opportunity to get me back. In fact, the order that got us sent to the Lunatic Pandora way back when was a result of his revenge. I never saw him again after that."
The room was dead silent for a while. Seifer spoke first. "And I look like him?" he asked slowly, understanding why Laguna had been so upset at seeing him.
"You move like him. You sound like him. You even carry your gunblade like he did. Some of your manners are like his. Even your smirk is like his," Laguna sighed. After all this time.... And now he had to deal with a youth that practically mirrored Donovan.
"But... I'm an orphan... Is he dead? Was he somehow related to me?" Seifer pressed.
"Unfortunately, Donovan Aufgerbrochen is very much alive. I don't know if he's related to you or not. I can tell you that he never married. He had a sister whom he was close to, but none of us ever met her. In fact, Donovan is the reason I called for your presence here, Squall," Laguna said.
"How so?" Squall asked, raising a chocolate eyebrow.
"My borders are being attacked. By the Galbadian army," Laguna said sadly.
The three SeeDs looked startled, and Zell put away his Gameboy. "But that's impossible! Squall broke it up! I should know! I was in charge of it when he broke them up," Seifer exclaimed.
"You were in charge of part of the army, Seifer. The part Ultimecia could get her hands on. When she killed Deling, she screwed herself actually. Donovan had risen through the ranks and had become the top-ranking General. He was over Caraway. He's a cruel bastard, but he is extremely charismatic when he wants to be. And he took at least half the army with him when Ultimecia took over. Most of those that he took were loyal to him, not Deling or Ultimecia. And he's been beefing it up, lately, recruiting from all over. Word has it that he's got weapons and rogue SeeDs he bought from NORG. Now that Esthar is no longer closed off, everyone knows that I'm president. Including him. So now he's trying to invade Esthar. And my reports are telling me he's doing a goddamn good job of it," Laguna said bitterly.
"And you want us to do what about it? We barely had enough SeeDs to combat the half of the army that Ultimecia had. We can't fight a full-scale war for you, Dad," Squall said, his scowl almost concerned.
"I'm not asking you to, Squall. Even when I was young, I was no match for a warrior as powerful as Donovan. Me against a gunblader? I'm decent in a fight, but I'm not as young as I use to be...."
"You want us to fight him," Squall said evenly.
"Yes. I need you to, Squall. You're good. Better than I ever was. I need you to find him, and kill him. If you destroy their leader, the whole army will collapse without his leadership. I'm positive of it," Laguna said, standing up and sticking his hands in his pockets, feeling nervous.
Both Zell and Seifer were looking at Squall expectantly. Squall glanced at Seifer for a moment. Laguna noticed with surprise that Squall looked almost concerned for the tall blonde. It passed quickly, so quickly that Seifer never noticed, but Laguna did.
"And what if Donovan is related to Seifer somehow? What then?" Squall asked. He really was concerned about Seifer's feelings. If Seifer had suddenly found a relative, and was forced to fight him.... Squall never seemed concerned about other's feelings before, not even Rinoa's. This odd shift in character in regards to Seifer intrigued Laguna.
"Then I can't expect him to fight a lost family member... I don't know how that would concern you though, Squall," Laguna shrugged.
"That would put us on the opposite ends of a war. Again," Seifer said quietly, staring sombrely at the ground. It seemed to bother them both. Laguna began to re-evaluate everything about the two of them.
"If we did decide to hunt down Donovan, what would you be doing? Running your war from here?" Squall asked in disbelief. His father was not a man to sit back and lead from the background.
"Not at all. Someone else is in charge as well. There has been sighting of a mysterious woman, who has been placing bombs and leading attacks on my vulnerable spots. She seems more dangerous at the moment that Donovan, mostly because she seems to know so much about Esthar. That's why me and Kiros are taking care of her. And we need SeeD to go after Donovan," Laguna grinned.
Squall groaned. "Are you crazy? You could get killed," he said with an almost angry look at his father. Laguna was flattered that Squall thought that much of him.
"I'm not a badass like you or Donovan, Squall, but I get by. I can handle a woman. And besides, I'll be with Kiros and Ward. And I'll have guards," Laguna scoffed. The grinding of Kiros' teeth told what his opinion of Laguna's decision was.
"Have you met Quistis?" Zell asked.
"Well, yes. Pretty girl. Shame she's so young...." Laguna shrugged.
"Have you seen her fight?" Zell continued.
"Well, yes, of course."
"Would you fuck with her?"
Laguna looked thoughtful, recalling the power behind the whip lashes Quistis delivered to her enemies. "Alright, point taken. I'll be careful," he said, not entirely convinced. Quistis was a SeeD, and this mysterious woman wasn't.
The three younger men sighed and shook their heads. Older men always seemed to be chauvinistic.. until they got their ass kicked by a girl with an attitude.
"But.. will you guys take the job...?" Laguna asked hopefully.
Squall looked back over at Seifer. His expression softened for a moment at the unhappy, torn expression on Seifer's face. It was full of concern, almost tenderness. Laguna was shocked. Squall was actually waiting to see if Seifer was okay with this before he accepted the job. Based on their hostile interaction, Laguna doubted if Squall realized how much he cared for his supposed childhood rival. It didn't make sense, but it did. A good chunk of both their lives had been consumed with the other.
Squall looked back at Laguna, his expression stony again. "Let us think about it, Dad. We'll get back to you in twenty-four hours...." he said. Laguna nodded.
Seifer shook his head. "I just wish I knew more about this Donovan person...." he muttered.
Squall heard and turned back to Laguna. "What about Elle? Would she be able to do like she did with you? I know it's hard for her with people she doesn't know, but she was able to do it with Rinoa.... Could she send us back in time, to find out more about Donovan? About Seifer's family?" he asked, almost urgently. A look of hope passed across Seifer's chiselled features.
"I.. don't know. I'll ask her, Squall. I tell you what. You guys go back to the Garden, and I'll meet you there tomorrow. I'll bring Elle, and you can decide in the meantime? Okay?" Laguna offered, spreading his hands.
Squall nodded. "That's sounds fine. See you tomorrow," he said, his stony calmness returning to him as he got ready to leave. Laguna wondered if anyone else had noticed the odd flashes of emotions that passed over Squall's countenance, and realized that he was the only one.
Laguna wondered, as his son departed, how he would feel about his son developing feelings for a boy who could easily be the son of the only man Laguna ever hated.
"Do you think this is such a good idea, Uncle Laguna?" Ellone asked, fiddling with her emerald green shawl. "I mean, maybe it's better if Seifer doesn't know this Donovan person. He sounds horrible."
"He is horrible..." Laguna murmured distantly. "But, Seifer seems to want to know..." He sighed. "Will you at least think about it, Elle?"
She nodded. "Of course, Uncle Laguna."
He smiled and patted her head, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. She slowly walked away, and Laguna could only sigh to himself, shoving his hands in his pockets. The fact that this woman looked like Julia, or at least made Laguna think of Julia, was eating him alive. Kiros didn't seem to believe him in the least, and almost seemed offended that Laguna would even bring up Julia's name.
"I don't know what his problem is... It's not like I want to see Julia again." Laguna walked up the empty, dark hallway. The Palace was very quiet, seeing as how most of the soldiers were out defending the frontlines against the Galbadian Army. He leaned against one of the walls, staring out at the city. "Dammit..." He whispered. "Why won't you go away?"
Laguna turned around when he heard a voice. A breathy, throaty voice. But, there was nobody there. He laughed to himself, looking out the window again.
"But, you want to see me, don't you, Laguna? You always wanted me..."
Laguna whipped around again, his hair moving around his face. He brushed it out of his eyes, searching the shadows for where the voice was coming from. He laughed again. "Jesus Christ, Laguna... You're really going bonkers."
"Kiros may not believe you, but that doesn't mean you're wrong...."
This time, Laguna looked at his own reflection in the window, and saw a woman standing behind him, clad in a velvet red dress. Julia. "Julia....?" He whispered.
"You don't seem all that glad to see me..." She stepped forward, and touched Laguna's shoulder. He gasped, feeling warm flesh touch him. It caused him to spin on his heel, reeling backwards so that he was pressed against the window. Julia just smiled at him.
"You're not real.... You can't be real...." Laguna chanted, his eyes going wide in surprise and terror.
"No, of course I'm not real..." Julia said, lowering her eyes coyly. "I only touched you, and am standing in front of you."
"You're just in my mind..."
She touched him again. "Laguna. Please... Stop ranting."
"What...?" He looked up and down the halls.
"We're alone!" Julia exclaimed, throwing her arms out. "I came to see you, Laguna." She reached up, running a pale hand through his long hair. "Oh, Laguna. I wish we'd had more time together. That night in the Galbadia Hotel was magical for me. Why did you leave?"
"This can't be happening..." Laguna whispered to himself. He turned away from this visage of Julia, but saw her reflection in the window. Laguna covered his face with his hands, rubbing his palms over his cheeks. "Go away, ghost...."
"But... Laguna!" Julia touched his shoulder. "Don't you want to see me? I mean, even when you were with Raine in Winhill, you thought of me...."
"I loved Raine..." Laguna whispered.
"She was my replacement," Julia whispered, her breath warm in Laguna's ear.
"No!" He exclaimed. "She was beautiful, she was wonderful... She gave me Squall."
"He could have been our son....."
Laguna turned his head, looking over his shoulder at this spectre. "But, what about your own daughter?!" He shook his head vigorously, as if trying to shake away what he was seeing. His long hair fell in his eyes. "You're not here..."
Julia reached up, brushing some of Laguna's ebony locks out of his eyes. "Yes, I am, Laguna..."
He narrowed his eyes. "How did you know about Raine and Winhill?"
The calm, serene smile that had been dancing on her lips faded around the edges, a hard context added to her appearance. "It wasn't really a secret...." She seemed to be grappling for an answer. "You wrote about it!" She sighed, relieved. "In the Timber Maniacs. Remember, silly?" She suddenly looked around. "Laguna... I've got to go. I'll see you soon. I'll have my eyes on you."
"Eyes On Me?" Laguna whispered darkly, turning to face the window again, slamming his eyes shut. When he opened them again, Julia was gone.
"Laguna...?" Kiros called, seeing his long-time friend slumping against the large picture windows. "Laguna?" He repeated, placing a hand on Laguna's tense shoulder.
The President of Esthar jumped. "Kiros!?" He whipped around, looking at the other man.
Kiros actually took a step backwards, shocked by the look on Laguna's face. He looked like a wild man, his pupils dilated, looking haunted. "Laguna, are... are you alright?"
"Did you see her?!" He exclaimed, looking past Kiros. Laguna put shaking hands on Kiros's shoulders, looking up into the other man's dark eyes. "Did you see her?!"
"Who?" Kiros asked, worry rising in his chest.
"Julia!!" Laguna was panting by now, his gaze darting back and forth, his eyes stormy.
Kiros stared at Laguna in total silence. "Laguna, have you been drinking?"
"NO!" He shoved Kiros away, moaning into his hands. "I saw her... She talked to me. She talked to be about Raine and Winhill...."
"Laguna..." Kiros's voice dropped several octaves. "Please... When you were in Winhill, Julia married General Caraway... She couldn't have known about Winhill."
"But, Timber Maniacs!!" Laguna was shaking all over, babbling into his hands.
Kiros tore Laguna's hands away from his face. "Laguna! Look at me, please!"
Laguna did so, but was shaking.
"Laguna... You just imagined her. Look, I know that you've been stressed out over Galbadia attacking us, and the possibility that Donovan could be behind it, but Laguna... Julia Heartilly is dead."
Laguna nodded, but wasn't entirely convinced. "Yeah, I know you're right, but..."
"But nothing!" Kiros exclaimed. "Now... Come on... You need to relax. We'll get something to eat, and you can chill out..." Kiros wrapped one graceful arm around Laguna's shaking shoulders, his heart like an angry bird in his chest, fluttering and pecking. His heart broke for Laguna, and also for the fact that Laguna would rather envision a dead lover than Kiros himself.
It had been a handful of days since Donovan had taken Rinoa, since Seifer had come face to face with his monstrous father, since Squall had accepted Laguna's offer, since Cid and Xu's funerals. Laguna's anger at Donovan was at an all time high. However, in all the tragedy, he felt some sort of calm relief. Julia had yet to reappear before him. But, that relief was at a war with his worry for Squall. Squall was currently out with the other SeeD, and Seifer, fighting Donovan and trying to get Rinoa back. Laguna and Kiros were at the northern border of Esthar, hidden in their camp within the Grandidi Forest. A group of Recon soldiers were due back soon with a terrain report, but Laguna couldn't think of that at all. He was too worried about Squall. Donovan Aufgerbrochen wasn't to be trifled with.
Laguna suddenly stood up, which caused Kiros to look up from the maps he was pouring over.
"What is it?" Kiros asked, confused.
"I just... I just need to move around, get some air. I'm going stir-crazy."
Kiros nodded, watching his friend with thoughtful eyes. "Alright. The Recon teams should be back soon."
Laguna just nodded, walking away from their hidey hole. He decided not to go far, but just wanted to get out of the tent, wanted to clear his head, try not to think about his only child putting his life on the line. He leaned against a tree, closing his eyes. Laguna could hear birds chirping, the sound of their tiny weight in the treetops above him. It was very peaceful here, making it easier for Laguna to try and forget that there was a conflict, that Donovan was back, that Cid and Xu were dead because of him.
"Penny for your thoughts?" A voice whispered.
Laguna smirked, expecting to look at Kiros when he opened his eyes. They were dark eyes, but they weren't Kiros's. Laguna gasped, falling to his knees in shock. Julia stood over him, her hands on her hips in playful fashion. "Silly!"
"Wha....?!" He sputtered, his heart a drum in his chest.
"Why are you on the ground?" Julia winked at him, offering her hand.
He refused it, and used the tree trunk to hoist himself off the ground. "What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to see you."
"But..." Laguna stared at Julia, his eyes wide. "You can't be real...." He moaned slightly. "I'm going insane."
Julia sidled up next to him, touching his chest in a very suggestive manner. "You're not going crazy. I mean.. Can't you feel me?" She took his hands, and put them on her chest, over the swell of her breasts, just above her nipples. "You're touching me now... I'm not a ghost... Can't you feel my flesh?"
Laguna's hand flinched on her mammary, but she held his hands in place. "You don't seem very happy to see me....? Something wrong?"
"You're fucking dead!" Laguna yelped, finally wrenching his hands free from Julia's surprisingly iron grip.
"You don't have to yell, Laguna... Do you remember when you came to watch me play the piano?"
Laguna breathed heavily, his legs starting to give out, his leg cramp acting up.
"You used to be my biggest fan. I even wrote Eyes On Me about us...." She smiled wistfully, stepping closer to the shaking Laguna. "I wish it had been you I was married to. You always... Understood me...."
Laguna kept shaking his head. "You're a ghost, you're not real, I'm imagining you, I'm going crazy, this isn't real, thisisn'trealthiscan'tbehappeningyou'reaghost..." He panted, chanting over and over, his voice barely a whisper.
He gasped like he was being shot as he felt Julia's mouth near his face, her warm, delicate breath washing over his face. "Laguna...." She whispered, and her mouth came down on top of his.
Laguna's eyes flew open, staring into nothing as Julia kissed him, her lips very real against him, her tongue hot and wet, pushing into his mouth. Her hands touched his body in a way he hadn't been touched in a long time. Her mouth was so hot, so wet, so velvety, just the way he remembered. He actually had never fucked Julia, but they had kissed, and it was like he'd been transported back almost twenty years. He couldn't help but close his eyes, his body responding to the gentle caress. Her hands moved into Laguna's hair, running it through her fingers. Her mouth became very demanding, needy, and Laguna just couldn't stop his hands from slinking around her waist. Julia murmured incoherently against his mouth, and chuckled slightly. It sent shivers down Laguna's spine, only adding to the weakness in his knees being caused by the kneejerk reaction of lust building in his body.
Laguna suddenly heard the sound of footsteps on the foliage covered ground. He pulled his mouth away from Julia's, and saw Kiros standing there, watching him with wide, shocked eyes. It wasn't an expression that Kiros had on his face often, for it was hard to surprise him, but this did.
"You see her!!" Laguna exclaimed, looking at Julia, who seemed to be panicking in his arms, trying to get away. Laguna let her go, and she seemed like a deer in headlights in front of Kiros, whose face kept changing expressions: Initially, it was shock, then wonderment, then surprise, then anger, then just utter astonishment. Kiros's mouth turned into a sneer, and he took a few steps towards Laguna and Julia.
Julia panicked, and ran away quickly, before either of them could make a move. Laguna painted in surprise, and Kiros just stared after her as Julia disappeared into the thick trees.
"You saw her, too!!" Laguna stated, feeling relieved that he wasn't, in fact, going utterly insane.
"Yes, I saw her..." Kiros's voice was tight, and Laguna was surprised at the anger in Kiros's dark eyes.
"I thought that Julia was dead!"
Kiros slowly turned to face Laguna. He shook his head slowly, his anger turning into pity, and something that Laguna couldn't read. "Laguna... That wasn't Julia Heartilly."
Laguna shook his head slowly. "What... what are you talking about?"
Kiros gripped Laguna's shoulders roughly, looking into his eyes. Laguna looked frazzled, and Kiros tried to keep the disappointment out of his eyes. He couldn't stand to see someone pulling the wool over Laguna's eyes like this, toying with his deepest emotions. He also couldn't stand that Laguna would fall for this Julia in disguise, and completely ignore Kiros. "Didn't you see her face, Laguna?!"
"Of course!" Laguna exclaimed, his anger rising. "It was Julia!"
Kiros shook Laguna, their faces only centimetres apart. "Laguna, that was not Julia Heartilly! Didn't you see her eyes?! How much she looked like Donovan?!"
Those words were like a slap across Laguna's face. He and Kiros stood very close together, Laguna panting, Kiros very grave and calm, the forest silent around them for a long, uncomfortable stretch of time.
"Donovan...?" Laguna repeated weakly.
"Yes..." Kiros sighed. "Rousing up your buried feelings for Julia is an excellent revenge."
Laguna furrowed his brow, hearing a note of pain in Kiros's voice. "Kiros...?"
"What?" He asked gently, sharply, as he released Laguna, taking a few steps back, finding it hard to be so close to Laguna.
"Who was she, then?"
Kiros sighed, kneading his temples. "I don't know... But... That look in her eyes when I caught you two. She had Donovan's eyes..."
Laguna sighed, almost slumping again. "Why is Julia coming back to haunt me?"
Kiros opened his mouth to reply, but closed it again. "Let's just go back to camp..."
"So, how did it go?"
"Shit, what happened to you?"
Donovan grimaced. "Family reunion gone bad."
She nodded, sitting on the edge of Donovan's chair. "It was going well until Kiros interrupted us. I'm pretty sure that he knows I'm not Julia Heartilly."
Donovan winced at his healing injuries, patting his sister's thigh. "Don't worry. We'll just have to move a little faster. Since Rinoa Heartilly is dead, they'll be out for blood."
"Laguna Loire is kind of cute, in a dopey way, Brother."
Donovan gave her a hard look, the light from the fire illuminating the handsome angles of his face.
"I'm just kidding!" Eva exclaimed silkily. "Don't get so upset."
Donovan frowned. "I am very disappointed in my so-called son. Consorting with Loire and his son." He curled his fist on Eva's thigh.
"You shouldn't get so worked up, Brother..." She whispered, leaning in. "It's bad for your health." She covered her brother's mouth with her own, pushing her tongue into his mouth, kissing him with far more passion than she'd shared with Laguna.
Donovan kissed her back, his hands running up and down her breasts. When they pulled away from each other, he frowned. "You're the only woman that's worth a fuck."
Eva laughed throatily. "Same to you, Brother dear... Same to you."
Squall turned when he heard his name. He was wandering around the Palace aimlessly, wondering where Seifer was. After Rinoa's death, he didn't really want to be alone, and especially wanted Seifer's company, after what they'd shared. Thinking about it, it felt like butterflies replaced Squall's organs. He saw his father looking at him, concern in his eyes.
"Are you okay?" Laguna asked, his own eyes looking haunted. "This must be awful for you..." He put a hand on Squall's shoulder. He then moved his hand up the side of Squall's face, and into his auburn hair. "You look so like your mother." As Laguna thought of Raine, thought of the way he'd betrayed her memory with someone who wasn't even Julia Heartilly, his heart constricted.
"I'd be better if everyone would stop asking me if I was okay..." Squall didn't pull away from Laguna's touch, like he might have done earlier. He looked around, hoping that he would see Seifer coming up the hallway.
"Looking for someone?" Laguna asked, noticing. "Seifer, perhaps?"
Squall opened his mouth in surprise, but shut it again. "That obvious?"
Laguna shook his head. "Only because I'm your father." He paused. "Is he having a hard time dealing with Donovan Aufgerbrochen being his father?"
Squall nodded distantly. "Yeah.. I mean... Wouldn't you? He's a horrible woman. And, his sister is just as bad...."
Laguna became very distant. "Yeah..."
"Did you see her? She kind of looks like Julia Heartilly..." At the mention of the surname Heartilly, Squall became distant again.
"Yeah, I know." Laguna decided not to divulge the gory details of his kiss to his son. "We'll get them."
"...Yeah..." Squall whispered, looking out the window.
Laguna and Squall stood in silence for a few moments, each haunted by their own demons. Squall was thinking about Rinoa's death, and how... bad it made him feel that he was taking solace in Seifer's arms, and yet... How glad it made him feel to know that Seifer was there. He just hoped that Seifer wouldn't fall apart. On Laguna's side, he was thinking of how blind and stupid he was to believe that Donovan's sister was really Julia Heartilly.
Squall sighed, looking up and down the halls again. His whole heart rose in his throat when he saw Seifer slowly walking up the halls, looking at his feet. Squall had known Seifer long enough to know that Seifer was in deep thought.
Laguna also saw Seifer coming towards them. "I'll leave you two alone..." Laguna whispered, squeezing Squall's shoulder. He began to slowly walk away. He looked over his shoulder, seeing Seifer and Squall standing next to each other, silent. They briefly looked at each other, and Laguna began to walk again. Once more, after taking a few steps, he turned around. Seifer's head was bowed, resting on Squall's shoulder, Squall embracing the taller man tightly, maybe whispering something in his ear. Laguna felt extremely lonely, and sighed deeply as he left them alone.
Laguna sighed, sitting in the dark of his office. He felt very empty and lost, especially after seeing Squall and Seifer together. And, he missed Raine. How could he have been so stupid?! And, Kiros just seemed disappointed in him. He grumbled to himself.
"She was very convincing..."
Laguna looked up in the darkness, seeing Kiros standing in the doorway.
"Huh...?" Laguna asked distantly.
"I know you," Kiros pointed out, coming into Laguna's office. He sat on the edge of Laguna's large desk. "You're thinking about Julia... I mean, Eva Aufgerbrochen."
"What gave it away?" Laguna asked darkly, running his hands through his hair in frustration.
"Because I know you."
Laguna couldn't help but laugh.
"What's so funny?" Kiros asked.
"This sounds identical to the conversation I had with Squall only a little while ago."
"He must be going through a tough time right now... What, with Rinoa's death and all..." Kiros sighed sadly.
"He has Seifer... They can help each other heal."
"You sound sad."
"Just... seeing them together makes me realize how lonely I am... How foolish I was to believe that Eva was really Julia. I feel like I betrayed Raine."
Kiros closed his eyes, not wanting to flinch at Laguna's words. "It's not your fault."
"I feel like it is, though."
Kiros just remained silent, looking at Laguna. He reached a hand out, patting Laguna's shoulder in what he hoped was a merely friendly manner, even though he wanted to touch Laguna tenderly. He went rigid with surprise when Laguna's hand covered his own.
"Thanks, Kiros..." Laguna whispered. He squeezed Kiros's graceful hand. "I really need a friend right now..."
They looked at each other for a long time, something passing in between them. Laguna was glad for Kiros being there, that Kiros would always be there. Julia was gone, dead, and Eva's lies couldn't replace that. And, Raine was gone, too. However, Raine would also live on in Squall, the son they shared, the son that looked so like her. But, Kiros would really be there until the end. Laguna kept Kiros's hand in his as they looked at each other. Laguna felt warm under Kiros's caring, calm gaze, and Kiros felt like his heart was shattering. He hated to see Laguna hurting like this. Kiros shifted his weight on the desk, and he ended up even closer to Laguna. They just continued to look at each other. Laguna felt like his troubles were miles away, like it was just another day. He felt like he could really make it through this conflict with Donovan. He could really soldier through this.
"Laguna..." Kiros whispered, wondering if he should break the silence and tell Laguna how he felt, how he'd always felt. He moved his hand out of Laguna's grip, and traced the lines of Laguna's cheekbone, gently, feather light.
Laguna blinked a few times, surprised by Kiros's show of tenderness. He felt his skin shiver, a pleasant sensation. He couldn't help but close his eyes as Kiros's fingers moved over the side of his face. Laguna's own fingers traced the sinewy lines of Kiros's wrist and forearm. Without saying a word, without kissing, without touching each other in an overly sexual manner, they connected in a way that they hadn't connected with any other person. The touch of their fingers alone spoke volumes. Both knew within themselves, that they could touch each other like this forever, and knew that the other man could see it in their eyes.
Their reverie was broken by a knock on the door. After a polite moment, Squall came in, a nervous look on his face. "Dad? Am I interrupting anything?"
By the time Squall had come in, Kiros and Laguna had already broken apart. "No, Squall..." Laguna's brow furrowed. "What's wrong?"
"Seifer... He...." Squall sighed, his back rigid. "He took off. He went to find Donovan. And, I think he knew where to go, too...." Squall sighed. "Back to where his mother lived..."
"And, where's that?" Kiros asked, shocked that Seifer would think he could go against Donovan alone, especially with Eva hanging around.
"From the vision that Elle gave us, there was a camp in Trabia.... I'm sure he's going there." Squall crossed his arms over his lean chest. "I can't let him face that asshole alone."
Laguna was already walking towards the door. "And, he won't. Come on... It's best if we don't send up alarm... Donovan probably doesn't know that Seifer is coming, so we should keep it under wraps, too. Donovan is probably hurting from the previous attack."
Squall nodded grimly. "I won't let Seifer do this alone. I have my own scores to settle."
They nodded at each other, preparing to follow Seifer into battle with the monster that was his father.
Squall had gone up ahead. There was a stone house that was actually being used. They could hear a battle going on inside. Laguna and Kiros were hanging back, in case there were soldiers lurking in the darkness that could join the fray.
Laguna bit his lip. "Squall could be walking into certain doom... I can't lose him, Kiros...."
Kiros sighed. "Shhh... They're both trained for this sort of thing."
They nodded, remaining silent. Suddenly, Kiros heard something. He looked to the woods, seeing some motion. "Laguna, wait here... I'll be back."
Laguna nodded, watching Kiros go to the edge of the woods that surrounded them. He didn't want to let Kiros out of his sight, knowing that Donovan and Eva were so close.
Laguna whipped his head around, hearing a woman's voice. He expected to see Eva, or Eva/Julia, but instead saw Raine. She was standing next to the edge of the woods on the other side of the house from the woods that Kiros was inspecting. She was wearing the same sweater and jeans that she'd always worn. She was waving at him, a large smile on her face. It lurched Laguna's heart. It was like looking at Raine and Squall, smiling at the exact same moment. He took a few steps towards her, and she beckoned him with open arms. Laguna's machine gun was very heavy in his arms, and he just wanted to drop it at his feet.
Suddenly, Laguna heard footsteps behind him. He knew it was Kiros coming back. "Kiros...." He whispered, watching Raine's face contort slightly in anger. Laguna turned to face Kiros, who was coming out of the woods.
"It was just a deer, Lagun....a...." Kiros stopped, seeing Laguna staring at a woman.
Laguna looked over his shoulder at Kiros. "I'm so sorry..." He whispered, raising his gun.
Raine smiled at him, her smile serene and angelic, and so pure and perfect. As Laguna raised her gun, she beckoned for him to continue, her stormy eyes glittering. Laguna fired the gun, causing Kiros to cry out. Laguna sighed deeply, almost sobbing as he slumped to his knees on the cold ground.
Raine's face remained still, frozen in a mask of disbelief. She looked down at her chest, which was blossomed with a splatter of red blood. Laguna had shot her. "You fucking loser!" She hissed. And, when Laguna looked up, he didn't see Raine's face any longer. It was the face of Eva, contorted in pain and rage.
Kiros stood back, watching Eva fall to her knees. Laguna raised the machine gun, and with a small sob of defeat, he pumped the entire clip into her body, leaving it like bloody Swiss Cheese, viscera and innards falling out of her body as bullets riddled her. She fell on her face, but Laguna kept firing until the gun clicked empty. While doing this, he whispered. "I'm sorry, Raine... I'm sorry, Raine...."
Kiros just stood behind Laguna, moving a hand to try and touch him, but taking it back again. Laguna kept whispering, even when Squall and Seifer came out of the small stone house that looked so ordinary, hiding the monsters that had dwelt within. The left side of Seifer's body was completely coated in blood and small bits of flesh. Squall was also splattered with blood, but not to the extreme that the taller man was. Seifer looked almost like two different people. The bloody side looked feral and fierce, and the other was washed with relief. Kiros then noticed that Squall was helping to hold Seifer up, showing he didn't escape unscathed.
"What happened?" Kiros asked, placing a hand on Laguna's shoulder, who was looking over at the bleeding body of Eva.
"I don't want to talk about it..." Seifer trailed off. He searched the pockets of his stained coat, and came out with a silver lighter. It had the initials D.A. on it. Seifer opened it, lit the fire, and tossed it into the house. He and Squall walked towards Kiros and Laguna, the stone house going up in flames.
"He's dead?" Laguna whispered, his eyes haunted, yet accepting as he finally stood. Laguna looked at Squall, and sighed with relief as he hugged his son tightly.
"Yes..." Seifer answered distantly. "I was lucky, I guess... Lucky that he hadn't fully healed from before. It made him a little slower. But, he's dead... And, the dead can't come back..."
Laguna looked at Eva's body. "No..." He whispered, wiping some blood splatters off Squall's fair face. "No, they can't."
They were still putting the pieces back together from the attack by the now deceased Donovan and Eva Aufgerbrochen. Squall and Seifer had both been very quiet, and Laguna let them have their solitude, which they shared. Laguna didn't really want to think of what his son was doing behind closed doors with Seifer Almasy, but at least Squall seemed as content as he could. He was still sad about Rinoa's death, but with Seifer with him, he was getting by. Laguna himself still felt the ghosts of Julia Heartilly and Raine Leonhart nipping at his heels. However, Kiros was there. They hadn't really talked about what happened in Laguna's office before they went to confront Donovan, but they hadn't really seen each other. Both had been very busy.
He looked up to see Kiros walking towards him. He had a few files under one arm.
"Oh, hi Kiros..." Laguna trailed off, feeling like a dorky teenager all of the sudden. "What's up?"
"Just off to another meeting. Look..." Kiros smiled genuinely. "We haven't gotten to... talk lately. Do you have time later tonight?"
Laguna nodded, a bit too quickly. "Yeah, yeah... sure!" He cringed inwardly when his voice slightly squeaked.
Kiros laughed. "Okay." He cocked his head. "See you later, okay?" Kiros reached up with his free arm, and traced the contours of Laguna's cheekbone, just as gently as he had earlier. Laguna reached up, touching Kiros's wrist, closing his eyes, and leaning into the touch. Laguna smiled, feeling warm and content, and his eyes fluttered open as Kiros's mouth brushed his own, warm and soft. It was the barest of touches, but it touched Laguna's whole self, his body reacting to it fully, and reacting so decidedly differently than it did with Eva's false kiss when she'd been disguised in glamour magic as Julia. "Later..." Kiros whispered, dropping his hand from the side of Laguna's face, and walking towards a Conference room.
Laguna touched the side of his face, which was warm from the blush rising in his cheeks, and Kiros's touch. He turned to look out the window, and was glad to only see his smiling reflection.
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