For them. I would set them free if I knew how.

Violence of the Storm

By Tenshi no Korin

"The sky has fallen now the earth is dry and torn
I know youíre tired from the violence of the storm
I love you, I love you, but you are all I know
Forgive me
Let the wind and ocean water wash across your hands
Wash away a thousand memories
Wash us all away
Like sand.
My name is Ariel..."
-- "Ariel," October Project (complete lyrics listed at the end)


"I have to let her go, Squall." Zellís voice didnít sound like his own, maybe it was because of the thunderstorm rumbling ominously on the horizon, beyond the pale chalk cliffs of Balamb.

"That girl from the Library?" Squall shrugged. "Too bad. She worships you, and I donít think she minds that you arenít interested. Sheís actually nicer to me because of it all, I think." He slammed the back door and cocked his head at Zell. He was heavily still, like the frozen silence between the flame slithering into a firecracker tube and the bang as it goes off.

"No, not Sara." Zell leaned up against the hot side of the Balamb-issue ATV, his eyes closed against the rain scented wind that whipped up off the greying ocean. White caps ruffled out of nowhere on the benign green surface of the waves, and sand skittered fretfully around the tires. "Quezacotl."

"Quezacotl?" Squall repeated, puzzled. He hadnít known the thunderbird had a gender, much less that Zell would know it. Zellís eyes opened quickly, entreating.

"Unless you want her back? You gave her to me and all but-" Zell crossed his arms, warding off the sudden chill as the sun slipped under the wooly blanket of clouds. The light turned that odd grey-blue of summer storm and fragile gold hairs stood up on Zellís tanned forearms. "She- She has to be free, Squall. Sheís not like the others. Well, maybe like Bahamut. Quezacotl doesnít TALK to me much, not like speaking, anyway."

"She talks to you?" Squallís eyebrows drew together in puzzlement. This had come over Zell suddenly, like the storm had the bright summer day.

Zell blushed under his recent golden tan. "You probably think Iím crazy, I know. But I hear her a lot. Like, just when Iím falling asleep? I think- I think maybe my mom might have sounded like her. Not Ma," he clarified, shaping sentences with his hands. "But my Mother, you know?"

Frankly Squall did not. His guardian forces were just that, a tool like his gunblade. Yes they were sentient creatures and he respected that, but it had never occurred to him that they might want to be free. Theyíd never really occurred much to him at all. He had only the barest images of the ones he hadnít fought to acquire. The world blurred a second after they were summoned and he had only the impression of Shivaís smooth blue thighs, or Quezacotlís tribal markings. When the world focused again his enemies were weaker and that was that until next time. He knew less about the ones heíd drawn from others, heíd never really seen them.

"Would you mind?" Zell seemed to be pleading with him across the hood of the car, his hands palm down on the warm metal. "The Garden gave her to you, I could just unjunction her and you could have her back?"

"Donít be ridiculous." Squall retorted, distantly. "I couldnít take Quezacotl from you any more than I could take your gloves or your final moves. Sheís been yours since Dollet. She belongs to you."

The rain began to fall, thrumming on the dusty hood and making small oases of sleek green enamel appear.

"Thatís the problem, " Zell murmured. "She shouldnít."

Squall sighed, ready to just tell Zell to get in the car so they wouldnít get drenched. But something made him stop, looking at Zell with the thunderstorm racing over the tossing waves behind him. The tattoo with its black lighting lines was illuminated briefly as the sky rumbled discontent, reminding Squall of the rapid swoop of Quezacotlís wings before it- she- melted from his sight. For a moment he wondered what it would be like to be a GF, what it would be like if Zell were one, imprisoned in the mind of an intimate stranger, gnawing away memories to make a place for his wings. Never knowing what pain the next summons might bring, dying if his host were to die, slowly fading within the boundaries of an empty body...

"Squall?" Zell hopped the hood to stand next to him, touching his shoulder. "Are you all right?"

"Let her go," Squall said roughly, still shaken by the image of Zell curled someplace small and dark inside of his mind, as if the martial artist was junctioned to Squall himself and Squall, greedy for the power and company, refused to unchain him. "Do you even know how?"

Zellís gold eyebrows lowered uneasily. The soft patter of rain began to come faster; Zell pushed back his hair with a wet hand. The ocean surface was wrinkled by the impending downpour. "No," Zell admitted finally, but his eyes twitched to the sky. "I donít think anyone ever has let one go. But Iím going to try. " Rain beaded in jewels on the armored backs of his gloves as he stripped them off.

~It could kill you,~ Squall thought, but he nodded and tucked the gloves into his back pocket. Even though the wind was now gleefully wild, they both seemed to have stopped noticing it.

Zell walked slowly to the edge of the beach, waves throwing themselves furiously against the sand as if to tear it from the high shoulder of the coast. Zell tossed his shorts to one side, kicking off his sandals and wading into the violent surf with only his empty hands to defend him.

Squall could only watch from the relative safety of the lee of the cliffs, one hand gripping the car side mirror so hard that the pleximetal threatened to break. He knew Zell was right, but it was taking all his strength not to rush after him and pull him back from the devouring waves. Zellís slim bare body was a gold streak in a pewter wash of sky and storm, still for a moment as the water rushed up around his chest, then retreated to his calves.

Squall and the storm held their breath.

Then Zell summoned.

The pause was miniscule, Quezacotl knew her master too well to tarry in coming to him. For once though, Zellís own body did not vanish to accommodate hers, and open armed he screamed her name. The water trembled, the next incoming wave switched direction and rolled back towards the ocean as some being ripped the space below it.

Quezacotl erupted out of the sea, leaving Zell behind as the waves rushed around him, drenching him even more than the sudden deluge of rain. His body looked terribly small next to the thunderbirdís massive wingspan, the water sluicing off the great golden pinions. Zellís body arched in a way that was too familiar to Squall, heíd held that yielding shape in his arms and theyíd moved in it together. But Zellís cry of grief or pleasure was lost in the thunder that boomed off the cliffs and the wind that turned the leaves of the forest inside out. It was Quezacotl he heard, a cry skirling above the pathetic storm and piercing the sky, her wings raining lighting around Zell and sparking as they flashed over the water. For a moment she paused, her glorious plumage stilled as she turned to acknowledge the one who had freed her. Her wings arched back like a canopy, and with a final cry she plunged into the abyss of air above her. The clouds tore apart to let her pass, and Zell went to his knees in the receding tide.

The rain had stopped.

Squall didnít know if it was rain or tears that stung his eyes, but either way it was ignored as instinct propelled him into the storm-littered water to haul a spluttering Zell out by the armpits. Zell kicked protest, grumbling about seaweed up his ass but dropping to the damp sand the moment Squall released him. He lay quietly on his back for a long time, watching the clouds departing as swiftly as they had come. Squall had no words; he was short of them on a usual basis and now, with that sharp encounter still ringing in his ears, he was completely empty of things to say.

"Beautiful, wasnít she?" Zell was smiling at the sky, aware of Squallís careful gaze, as if he was expecting Zell to suddenly laugh like a maniac or crumple quietly in a ball and weep. "Iíd never really seen her before."

"Did she tell you anything?" Squall was remembering that glance back, the way Zell had spoken something unclear over the wind.

"Yeah." Zell said, still giving the torn bits of remaining cloud a smile as if he shared a secret with them. "She did."

Squall waited but Zell did not seem inclined to divulge more information, instead getting to his feet and looking around for his shorts.

"Zell." Squall reached out to touch the smooth sand-glittered surface of Zellís back, but hesitated. Heíd seen magic and knew it and had tasted it in his mouth, but this was something rich and strange and beyond him. "Zell, what is that?"

"What is what?" Zell craned his neck to see between his shoulderblades. "A jellyfish or something?"

Squall didnít answer, but took Zell by the elbow and led him back to the parked vehicle, turning him so he could see his back reflected in the tinted window. Zell blinked, thinking at first what he saw was a distortion on the glass, but then his eyes widened in surprise.

Stretched between the points of Zellís shoulderblades burned an image of glorious gold and saffron, detailed with a black so velvety it did not seem possible. A magnificent thunderbird spread her protective wings almost up to cradle the back of Zellís neck, white-silver threads of electricity hovering around her. Neither Squall nor Zell could recall anything so utterly perfect.

"Is it a present, or a brand?" Squall asked carefully, as Zell reached behind him to trace his fingers over the tattoo. The skin was not sore, and Zell knew enough that he should be in agony for at least a few days after getting anything so complicated. No yellow dye he knew of could show up in such smooth brightness on human skin, and the lightning seemed to flicker with the barest motion of his body.

"I think itís a present." He said at last, and missed Squallís exhalation in relief. "She said something about a gift for one given- I still donít understand most of it but maybe part of it was this." He smiled slowly, and then grinned at Squall. "Damn, itís pretty awesome though, isnít it? I was thinking about getting a new one." An idea struck him. "Hey maybe if you released Bahamut heíd-"

Squall blew at his bangs in irritation, forgetting his anxiety of the past hour. "Like hell. Iíd look ridiculous. Now get in and letís get back before Cid sends a search party out for us."

"Alright, alright." Once in the car Zell was himself again, chattering at Squall for the first few minutes of the trip back. Exhaustion took over swiftly and he drifted off in the middle of one of his sentences, leaning his head on Squallís shoulder. Squall glanced down at him every now and then, just to make sure he was still there, junctioned to his side.

Squall wasnít very good at letting things go.

Somewhere beyond them and in the haze of Zellís dreaming, Quezacotl lifted her wings over the dark path of the storm, gold from her wings streaming like sunlight through the rack of clouds. And over the peal of thunder Zell could hear her, flying forever and no more distant than the next spear of lightning.

~owari~

 

"My name is Ariel
And I want to be free
It is your sorrow
That has made a slave of me
Forgive me
Forgive me
But you are all I know
Forgive me for leaving
The day is breaking now
It's time to go away
I'm so afraid to leave
But more afraid to stay
Forgive me
For leaving
The sadness in your eyes
Forgive me
Let the wind and ocean water
Wash across your hands
Wash away a thousand footsteps
Wash us all away
Like sand
The sky has fallen
Now the earth is dry and torn
I know you're tired
From the violence of the storm
I love you
I love you
But you are all I know
Forgive me
Let the wind and ocean water
Wash across your hands
Wash away a thousand footsteps
Wash us all away
Let the wind and ocean water
Wash across your hands
Wash away a thousand memories
Wash us all away...
Like sand
My name is Ariel

-Lyrics (c) October Project

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