The Compression of Time

By Tenshi no Korin

Cold. Fucking cold, biting down through his skin and blowing icy across his hands, rendering them to stiff curves of unresponsive fingers, unwilling to obey his commands. He had crawled to the lee of a ruined wall and slumped there, trying to breathe.

This is the way the world ends.

Dimly, in the back corners of his mind, he wondered if the others were still alive. His entire unit had been decimated, how he survived was totally beyond his ken. There was no luck to that, though; it just meant he had to sit here, in the cold, waiting for the end of the world.

His lover was stationed in Dollet, fending off the beasts She summoned from the ends of time. He closed his eyes and thought of Vahn, deadly with a pulse whip and never ruffled.

He wondered if he was dead.

Numb, he amended, to his previous thought of cold. It wasn't that cold here, on the windswept sea-eroded cliff. He was just numb, empty of magic, drained and hollow in the shelter of the broken wall. He felt his guardian force shift sluggishly in the confines of his mind, wounded too, and keening softly.

I know, old friend. I know.

Something ripped out of the space in front of him and he fumbled for the clammy weight of his weapon, his fingers brushing uselessly against the worn-smooth wood and refusing to curl properly around the grips. He wondered what sort of beast it would be, bright and color-drenched and terrible, come to toss him on its prongs until he joined his comrades in their still, unmoving ranks on the ground.

Something many-voiced and almost human, footsteps clattering on the broken stone...

"My god," Someone said, rough and unsteady and there was the sound of a gun cocking.

He lifted his head, trying to focus. Surely not reinforcements? There was no one to call, no one to spare.

"Where are we?" Masculine, light and fast and impatient on his syllables. "Are these--"

"Future SeeDs," And this was a new voice, cold not like the wind but like the taste of metal in his mouth, cold like adamantine. "We're fighting across generations." There was a long pause, the shifting of feet.

"Are they... all dead?" A woman's voice, young and thin and scared, a woman's voice the likes of which he had not heard for a long time, still soft, still innocent.

The fog cleared a little, mist from the ocean rolling in tatters and streamers across his vision and finally dissipating, leaving six figures standing close together, heads tilted to the weighty, unraining gray sky, staring at the monstrosity chained to the cliffside, heavy and ponderous and impossible, thick with time.

One of them, a blur of salmon-colored fabric and bright gold hair, turned and sighed at the abandoned bodies on the ground. He blinked hard at her, trying to place the color of her uniform and the make of her weapon, wondering what Garden she was from. Something about the color and the whip and the gold hair... Vahn. Vahn and his corps of blue-magic users, with their fire-lightening whips and peach insignias. Vahn in Dollet, Vahn maybe already dead, Vahn his lover. And the owner of the quick voice, who wore on his cheek the black flame emblem of the elite combat artists who shunned any weapon but their own hands, and the gleaming rifle of the sharpshooter and the blue-wing pattern of the magic-users and the chained double-staff of the aura troops who used guardian forces as if it were bred in them... he knew, somehow, that there was something terribly important here, but the numbness had reached his brain and it would not come to him, memory already frayed, space gnawed away by the partner in his mind.

Then the black-clad one turned, and a flare of purple lightening flashed on his necklace and in his eyes, on belts and scar and the gunblade flickering in his hand.

Sweet children of Hyne, sweet goddesses of mercy and holy sorceress's blood, it was the Lion.

He must have made a sound, in motion or the empty column of his throat, for they all turned, weapons level and eyes sharp, fresher fighters than had stood on this cliff for many long days.

"Hey!" the smallest of the women jumped to see him, with a rattle of chain from her weapon. "Hey, are you alive?"

"Selphie," the Lion began, eyes on the castle. "We don't have time to-"

"Don't be an ass, Squall," The blond fighter retorted, lowering gloved hands.

He blinked. They spoke so to the Lion?

"...We shouldn't interfere," the Lion continued, but four of them drew close. The blue-clad magic-user hovered close to the Lion's shadow, her eyes dark and sad.

"Hello!" the one called Selphie smiled. "We're here now, so don't worry about ANYthing. We'll take care of it, okay?"

"For the love of god, Sefie, he needs a cure, not a pep talk." The sharpshooter edged her aside, blue eyes narrowing in a ghost of a smile. "Looks like you guys have been through hell," he said, raising one hand, palm up.

He tried to protest, that spells were precious and he was already dead, that the Six should keep their magic for themselves. But Cure washed over him in a green wave, a raw, potent, unrecycled magic, straight from the sharpshooter's eyes and into his chest, steadying the faltered beat of his heart and sealing the small tears and fractures inside his body.

He'd not felt magic so pure since before the beginning of the war.

"I-" he began, but he didn't have the strength for more, not even to push aside the fall of his hair and show the silver ring in his left ear, not even to lift his own gun, descendent of the perfect rifle in the sharpshooter's hand.

Kinneas. I have your name. You are my-

"Irvine! Zell! Let's go!" the Lion lifted his head, gunblade flashing in the direction of the castle.

"C'mon, Quistis." Selphie dusted off her knees, waving over her shoulder. "Bye!"

"Good luck," Quistis said, squeezing his shoulder and following the smaller girl. Zell gave him a thumbs-up and a grin, leaving the sharpshooter and the SeeD alone, wind howling through holes in the stone wall.

"Thank you," Irvine said at last, shouldering his gun. "We'll take it from here."

He watched them go up the massive groaning chains leading to her gate, watched them until they were mere specks against the sky, until they were gone.

He breathed for what felt like the first time in a year.

Beside him, on the ground, his communicator shrilled to life, blinking a frantic message from Dollet.

"Kinneas! Dammit, you asshole! Are you dead? Answer me! Ultimecia's forces are in retreat, what the hell's going on down there?"

His mind hurt, spinning in the whirl of time that was slowly uncompressing. Body still aching from the recently cured wounds, he found the strength to pick up the small comm unit, press the flashing green button, and answer Vahn's signal.


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