Chapter Twenty-One

By Scarlet Fever

Fujin sighed deeply, looking at the portable radio in her hands. The static between her connection and Botany's was getting stronger. She was waiting for a meteorologist to get back to her. She was sitting in front of the communication console, waiting for Raijin to wake up. She knew she had to tell him about the baby. And, she wouldn't put it off. As soon as he woke up.

She nearly jumped out of her skin when the radio crackled.

"Everything's fine here. No change." It went out again.

Fujin narrowed her good eye. That had been a rather abrupt message. But, it had been that way for the past hour. Everything's fine here. No change. Everything's fine here. No change. Botany didn't seem like a chatty person, so maybe he was keeping it simple. But, that crackling static was bothering her. "Where's that damn meteorologist?" She asked aloud.

"Who are you waiting for...?" A voice asked sleepily.

She turned, looking at Raijin, who was yawning into a fist, and stretching his body like a cat. He then ran his hands through his tousled hair. He cocked his head at her. "You look worried, ya know?!"

"As well I should be. We're dealing with two sadistic Sorceresses here."

"You don't have to remind me," Raijin whispered, slumping down on the floor beside Fujin's chair, seating himself in a cross-legged position. "So, who are you waiting for? Another man?" He gave her a wink.

"No. The meteorologist."

"Is he going to predict your forecast, ya know?!" He asked teasingly, patting her outer haunch.

"The meteorologist is a woman, and shut up." She frowned at him. "RAGE."

He laughed quietly. "So, why are you waiting for her?"

"Because there's a lot of static on Botany's end, and I want to find out if it's storm interference." She smiled sadly, looking at Raijin.

"You're thinking it could be something else?" Raijin asked his wife. "Something to do with Adel and Ultimecia, ya know?"

She nodded, patting her stomach. "Yeah. I mean, I don't want to just conclude that it's a sandstorm, and then find out it's something much more horrible." The hand on her stomach started making small gentle circles.

"Do you want me to get you some Pepto Bismal or something?" Raijin asked, raising his pierced eyebrow.

Fujin narrowed her eye in confusion. "No. Why?"

He made a nodding motion to her hand on her abdomen. "Because you've been touching your stomach a lot. I mean, I know you've been sick, so I thought you might have an upset stomach."

"No..." Fujin whispered. I don't have an upset stomach...." She sighed deeply. "Raijin, I have to talk to you."

"About what Sunde said to you?"

She nodded, looking at the command console in front of her. "Now, you promise you won't fly off the handle, right?"

The bulky man blinked. "Sure.... Man, it must be bad if I have to promise that."

She looked at him, tucking some steely hair behind her ears. "Okay, this is going to sound totally ridiculous, but it's the total truth. I saw the blood test results myself."

"Fujin...?" Raijin's voice held an utterly perplexed tone.

"Raijin, I'm pregnant."

He smiled. "Okay, I think I heard you wrong, ya know? Sounded like you said you were pregnant."

"I did say that," Fujin whispered.

Raijin was silent for a few moments.


"But, you're on that Depo-Provera ..." He shook his head. "Did you forget to take it or something?"

"It's not 100% effective. I guess we're that small fraction..."

"Pregnant?" Raijin asked hollowly.

"You promised you wouldn't flip out..." Fujin warned.

"I'm not going to flip out." Raijin gave her a long look. "How long have you been...?"

"Not long. Probably only a month or two. Sunde said I was very early. I have to go for another appointment, but things have just been...Well, you know."

Raijin propped his chin up on his fists, and looked at Fujin, as if for the first time, scrutinizing her. "So, what have you decided to do?"

"What do you mean?" She frowned at him. "Do you want me to get an abortion?"

"I didn't say that," Raijin said. "But, I mean, you've been sick and all. What if this pregnancy will be bad for you?"

Fujin sighed deeply. "I don't want to have an abortion."

Raijin smiled distantly. "You want to have the baby?"

"Do you?"

He laughed sharply. "I don't really think it's up to me. You're going to be the one who gets fat and all bitchy and stuff."

She punched him in the arm. "Shut up. But... Have you ever thought about yourself as a father?"

"Sure," Raijin answered. "But, I mean, it was just kind of daydreaming... Wondering, ya know?" He looked at her stomach. "I never thought I would have to consider it so soon."

"I want your opinion, Raijin. I mean, we're in this together."

"I think we'd be good parents," he said wistfully. He suddenly became said. "I was about to say... I can't wait to tell Seifer, ya know?" He reached his hand out, taking Fujin's in it. "I think he would have been happy."

Fujin squeezed Raijin's hand. "We're talking about him like he's already dead."

Raijin moved his free hand to Fujin's stomach, touching where the zygote was already growing in her. "That's because he probably is..."

"Oh.... Mrs. Dincht..." Squall whispered, biting his lip. "What... What.... are you doing here?"

She folded her hands in front of her. "I'm sorry to have interrupted you." She cocked her head.

"Oh, it's alright." Nida waved his hand, trying to shoo away his blush. "I don't believe we've met. I'm Nida Nomura."

Ma Dincht nodded. "Yes, I thought you looked familiar. I see your face every morning."

Nida narrowed his eyes in confusion. "What, you've been stalking me?"

She laughed quietly. "No. You're in the picture taken from the SeeD graduation that I have on my fridge. You're with Squall, Selphie and my son."

Nida and Squall uneasily looked at each other. "Mrs. Dincht..." Squall began.

"I was just wondering if Zell was around. I mean, I haven't heard from him, and I wanted to know how the search for Seifer's past was going?"

"Mrs. Dincht, I think you better sit down," Squall muttered.

"What's going on?" Ma Dincht asked, sensing the hesitation and reservation in Squall's voice. She sat at the table that Squall and Nida had eaten at.

A Soldier slowly came into the kitchen. A Balamb Garden SeeD. "Uhhh.... Captain Nomura?" He gave Nida a salute. "Headmaster Trepe and General Yun Ling need you. They're planning the air scope of the land, and want you there." The SeeD saluted and left.

Nida sighed sadly. "Xu and Quistis beckon." He leaned in closer to Squall so he could whisper in the other man's ear. "I'll come find you...."

Squall nodded distantly, looking into Nida's eyes, his own still glittering with desire. "Report back to me about the aerial scope."

Nida did a mock salute, smiling sadly at Mrs. Dincht before leaving the kitchen.

"I'm really sorry...." Saffron Dincht apologized. "I should have said I was coming ahead of time. So, where is my son? I'd like to see him."

Squall slowly sat down, his serious demeanour coming over him. He had to speak to her like he would speak to any mother of a soldier. He had to. If he thought of her as more than that, it would make it too difficult to get the words out.

"Squall....?" Saffron cocked her head, a lock of deep brown hair coming out of her bun. "You look so serious..."

Squall opened his mouth to answer, but stopped when an Esthar official came in. "President Leonhart, do you wish to send an aerial squad to the Kashkabald Desert? Commander Fujin is concerned about the static received from Lieutenant Gillespie."

"Anything having to do with the aerial division is going to be left in Captain Nomura's hands. Talk to him and General Yun Ling, as well as Headmaster Trepe to see what they think. If they find the risk acceptable, their word is considered on par with my own."

The official nodded. "Yes, sir." He quickly turned and left.

Ma Dincht blinked. "President?!" She shook her head slightly. "But, what happened to President Loire... I mean, your father?"

Squall paused, his shoulders slumping slightly. "He's in a coma."

"What?" Saffron looked shocked. "But, how....? Did he hit his head?" She bit her lip. "Will he be okay?"

"We don't know. It's not a usual type of coma. It's based on Sorcery."

"Sorcery?" Ma Dincht's voice became sceptical. "What on earth are you talking about? You mean a Sorceress put your father in a coma?" She narrowed her eyes. "Was it Edea?"

Squall shook his head sadly. "No. It was Seifer and Zell."

There was a long pause. Saffron just stared at Squall, a blank look on her face. Finally, she responded. "This isn't funny, Squall."

"It's not supposed to be!" He snapped. He lowered his voice. "I'm sorry. But, it's true, no matter how far-fetched it sounds."

"Zell, a Sorcerer?" She gave an angry laugh. "How the Hell do you think I'm supposed to believe that?"

"Well, if you don't believe me now, you really won't believe the rest. He's not Zell anymore. And, Seifer isn't Seifer anymore."

Saffron shook her head. "Do you think I'm stupid? Tell me what's really going on?"

The Tonberry that was in the kitchen, that Squall had completely forgotten about, squeaked and walked towards them. I am one of the last surviving Tonberrys. The avatars of Adel and Ultimecia did this to us. Zell Dincht is Adel's avatar, as Seifer Almasy is Ultimecia's.

Saffron blinked at the small green creature. "What's going on here?"

Squall slowly rose to his feet. "If you won't believe me, maybe I can show you...."

She stood as well. "Show me what?"

Squall motioned for Zell's mother to follow him. She did, but with hesitation. The Tonberry followed behind them, a curious glint in his yellow eyes. "Can I ask you a question, Mrs. Dincht?" Squall asked.


"Well, what do you know about Zell's life, his family? I mean, before you adopted him...."

Saffron cocked her head. "Nothing. I just assumed that his family died in the Sorceress War, and he was taken to Edea's Orphanage."

"That's partly true. You see, just before the War happened, there was a city in Trabia called Ignus."

"I know it," Saffron answered. "It was destroyed in a fire just before the War."

Squall nodded, crossing his arms over his shoulders. His voice took on kind of a clinical detachment as he spoke. It was better to be objective, not let his emotions get to him for this. It would be too hard if he did let himself feel the sorrow. "Before the War, Adel used to live there. With her family. There was also another Sorceress living there. Xerampelinae Almasy."

"Xerampelinae... Almasy.....?" Saffron whispered. "Almasy as in Seifer Almasy?"

Squall nodded. "I'm sure you're aware that Seifer recently discovered that he had magical powers..."

"Zell and Seifer mentioned it briefly," she said quietly. "That's why they came here to look into Seifer's past."

Squall nodded again, opening the door to Laguna's, and now his own, office. He ushered the older woman in. "Xerampelinae was Seifer's mother. She worshipped the same religion that the founders of Ignus worshipped. They were called the Inaudax. This religion worshipped some sort of Arcane God or Goddess of Justice called Iudicium. It started when the Dollet Empire was still reigning. But, the Inaudax was led by a woman called Intervigilium. The prior form of Ultimecia."

"Ultimecia? But, wasn't she a Sorceress from the future? That's what Zell and Seifer said."

"She was a Time Mage. Are you familiar with that ability?"

Saffron nodded, sitting in a chair when Squall motioned for her to. "So, she could travel to any time she wanted." Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "That Tonberry said that Seifer was the Avatar of Ultimecia, and that my son was the Avatar of Adel. Is Ultimecia in this time?"

Squall nodded sadly. "Yes. When we defeated Ultimecia the first time, since she's got Time Mage abilities, she probably knew through Clairvoyance that we were going to beat her. So, she broke her power up, separating it so that we wouldn't be fighting her true, full form. She broke her power into four parts. She kept the largest part for herself. Then, she gave smaller parts to Edea, Rinoa, and a Sorceress called Lillith."

"Lillith?" Saffron echoed hollowly. "Like in the children's ghost stories?"

Squall nodded. "Well, it's actually interesting. Lillith is like a legend, but her true age is, or... was, a few years older than us. It's because Ultimecia took her from her home, and through time, so I guess she existed beyond the plane of time. Lillith also resided in the city of Ignus. She was actually the reason that the city was burned."

"How so?" Saffron asked. "And, what does this have to do with Zell?"

"Lillith's mother, Xerampelinae, gave her daughter up to Ultimecia."

"Lillith... was Xerampelinae's... daughter? So, she was Seifer's sister?"

Squall nodded. "Well, we... Being myself, Zell, Seifer and Edea, went to find Lillith. She existed on the plane of the dead, and she brought us there, and told us about Seifer's past, and their family. She also told us about Adel Viator, before she became the ruling Sorceress of Esthar. And, that Zell was her son."

Saffron sat absolutely still. She didn't even blink.

"Mrs. Dincht?" Squall asked after a few moments of tense silence.

"Did you just say that Sorceress Adel is Zell's real mother?"

Squall nodded grimly, sitting behind the large desk. He propped his chin up on his steepled fingers. "Yes. Adel Viator is Zell's birth mother."

"But, she was a horrible monster!"

"Not always," Squall began to explain. "She was a very kind woman at one time, and loved her husband and two children. So, when Xerampelinae had called up Ultimecia to give Lillith to her as an offering of sorts, the city was set up in flames by Ultimecia, killing most of the residents. The Esthar army came to try and stop it, and to get the survivors out. They took the survivors away, taking the children to Edea's Orphanage. Zell's brother died in the fire, but Zell was at Edea's and that's when you found him."

"But, how did Adel turn into the monster that everyone knows her as?"

"Because of Xerampelinae. She convinced Adel that the Esthar army had killed her children. And, it eventually began to wear on her, and her inner hatred and anger began to change her outer appearance, because of her powers."

"So, what happened to Xerampelinae?" Saffron asked, leaning in.

"She was killed by Ultimecia after she got Adel turned. She outlived her usefulness, and Ultimecia absorbed her powers."

"But, what about Zell and Seifer?"

"When we went to see Lillith, Seifer's powers awakened Ultimecia's within Lillith, I suppose. I'm not exactly sure, because I can't really ask either Seifer or Lillith." Squall sighed deeply. "Ultimecia and Adel awoke, and possessed Seifer and Zell. Adel is in Zell's body, and Ultimecia is in Seifer's body. Right now, they're collecting the separated pieces of Ultimecia's power, and then they'll come after Esthar. They'll come after their greatest enemies. Myself and Laguna.

"So, is the power all together?" Saffron whispered.

"No. They still need the power out of Edea. Right now, we're hiding her in a magically shielded area. They got the power out of Lillith and Rinoa, killing both of them."

"So, Zell and Seifer killed people?"

Squall's eyes showed his strain, and he felt a stinging behind them. "Many people have died. Including Selphie Tilmitt, Ward Zabac, General Caraway, and Rinoa Heartilly."

Saffron shook her head. "I can't believe this.... What sort of proof do you have besides a fairy tale?"

Squall opened one of the desk drawers, and pulled out a remote control. "I'm going to show you a surveillance tape from the Caraway Mansion in Deling City." Squall lowered his voice. "Now, you're not going to like what you see. It's pretty violent."

Saffron shook her head. "Just show me, Squall."

He nodded gravely, and turned on the television. The black and white, grainy image fluttered onto the screen, showing Rinoa, frightened, terrified. The sound was off, so at least they couldn't hear her scream as Zell snapped her neck like a twig. Mrs. Dincht took her breath in sharply as she watched her son commit murder. Squall froze it when Seifer and Zell's faces were both in frame. Despite the image being in black and white, it was easy to tell that their eyes weren't what they usually were. Zell's triumphant smile was hard, and showed his canines, which looked more like wrathful fangs.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Dincht," Squall whispered. "I didn't want you to find out this way...."

She was surprisingly calm, put together. "Can they be helped?"

Squall blinked, surprised by her question. "Mrs. Dincht?"

"Can they be helped? Can you fight Ultimecia and Adel without hurting them?"

"It's unlikely, Mrs. Dincht. I'm sorry."

Saffron nodded distantly. "I know. I know this isn't easy for you, Squall."

"We're going to try out best, Mrs. Dincht."

"I know you are," she said, sighing deeply. She bit her lip, and Squall could see the personal strain she was under, the fact that she was wrestling with her emotions.

"Mrs. Dincht... You can stay here as long as you want, so you can be apprised of the situation..."

"That would be fine." She stood. "Squall, I would like to have some time for myself now. I have a lot to digest. Thank you for telling me the truth..." She nodded and quickly left.

Squall sighed deeply, looking up as he heard the shuffling of the Tonberry, who came into the room. It began looking around, fascinated by the furniture, examining it all. Squall just blankly watched, a dull ache growing in his chest. Talking with Ma Dincht made him miss Laguna. He rubbed his palms over his face, pressing a communication button.

"Esthar Airstation?"

"This is President Leonhart. I would like a briefing on the decisions of Captain Nomura, General Yun Ling and Headmaster Trepe concerning the Kashkabald Desert."

"Sir, Captain Nomura, along with Headmaster Trepe, went to the area in the Ragnarok, advising the rest of the Air Force to stay behind until further notice."

Squall nodded. Nida's decision had been the right one. But, Squall couldn't help the worry that crept into him. "Fine. And, what about General Xu Yun Ling?"

"She was going to accompany the Captain and Headmaster, but received word from Trabia."

"Trabia?" Squall asked. "Concerning what?"

"I believe it was a transmission from Irvine Kinneas, sir."

Squall sucked his breath in. "Contact General Yun Ling, and tell her to come to my office immediately."

"Yes, sir. Commander Fujin also wants to speak with you. Would you like me to contact her as well?"

"Do you know what the Commander wishes to speak to me about?"

"It involves the Desert situation, sir."

"Fine." Squall severed the connection. He sighed sadly, looking over at the frozen video of Zell smirking malevolently over Rinoa's broken body. He heavily pressed the off button, grumbling into his hands. He wished that Laguna was here to help him. "Why does the world always fall on my shoulders?"

"Xu, my mind is made up. Cid and Edea are fine here. He can take care of her. Ellone can help take care of her. Cid's been her Knight for long enough. I want to help."

"Irvine, that is unacceptable. What if Seifer and Zell try to go after her?"

"What, so while I'm here twiddling my thumbs, someone else will die like Selphie did?" Irvine spat into the phone. "I won't sit here being useless. Look, I may not have officially graduated SeeD like the rest of you, but I'm still a fighter, still part of this. Can't you understand?"

"Of course, Irvine, but...."

"What?!" He yelled into the cellular phone he was using. "Can you honestly say that if something like this happened to Quistis, you would just stay put and do nothing?"

"You're not doing nothing," Xu exclaimed calmly. "If Seifer and Zell get their hands on Edea, it will be detrimental. We can't let that happen."

"I'm aware of that, but Odine still has that barrier going, and Cid is here. I have to come to Esthar to help."

"I outrank you, Irvine. You have to do what I say."

"What if I went to Squall? He outranks you."

Xu sighed into the phone. "Irvine, Squall will agree with me. Please. Protect Edea...."

"You need me there."

Xu paused. "Irvine, I know that you are upset about Selphie, but please... Just stay at your post. Now, I'm going to Squall's office now, and I'll talk to him about the situation. But, don't expect anything. Just stay in Trabia."

Irvine grumbled, hanging up.

"Irvine?" Ellone asked from behind him. "What's going on?"

He turned. "Oh, hi, Elle." He sighed deeply, putting the phone in one of the pockets of his duster. "I want to go to Esthar to help Squall, Quistis and the others. I feel so useless here."

Ellone sighed, putting a comforting hand on Irvine's shoulder. "You couldn't have done anything to help Selphie, Irvine."

He grumbled unhappily. "I know, I know... But, dammit!" He looked at her with anguished periwinkle eyes. "I don't want to be useless anymore. I mean, I know it's important to look after Matron..."

"But, you're a fighter. You always have been. Just like Squall, Quistis and the others. Even just like Seifer and Zell. You just can't sit here."

Irvine slumped against the wall, his body slowly sliding to the ground. "Elle.... I loved her so much, you know? I mean, she was really the one."

"I know..." Ellone sat on the floor beside him, smoothing her plum coloured skirt over her knees. "You always loved her. But, Selphie died for what she believed in. She died to protect Matron. It was very noble of her."

"Well, noble doesn't bring her back to life, does it, Ellone?"

"No," she whispered, her brown eyes watery with concern. "No, it doesn't." She cocked her head. "Why won't she leave us alone?"

Irvine looked over at the brunette. "You mean Ultimecia?"

Ellone nodded. "Why can't she just go away?"

"Nothing will ever be the same again," Irvine muttered, closing his eyes wearily. "Even if we win, it will never be the same. Selphie is gone. Rinoa is gone. And, Seifer and Zell....."

The brunette woman sighed. "I know. Even if Seifer and Zell become themselves again, they won't be able to function the same way again. People won't forget, and they won't forgive."

There was a pause. "Elle? Do you think that Seifer and Zell can become themselves again?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. From the tone of your voice, you don't sound very optimistic."

"Because I'm not. I mean, I know that they weren't responsible for Selphie's death, that it was Adel and Ultimecia doing it to them, but..."

"But, if they reverted to themselves again, you wouldn't be able to look at them the same." Ellone patted his shoulder. "I know that the three of you were close."

"We used to be roommates in Balamb..." Irvine sighed. "God, that seems like such a long time ago."

"I think that everything that has to do with everyday life seems a million miles away." Ellone frowned. "Irvine, how do you think Squall is holding up? I mean, with Rinoa dying, and now Uncle Laguna in a coma.... He must be going through Hell.... And, knowing that he'll have to maybe kill Seifer and Zell, two of his best friends..."

"He has Quistis and Xu to help. Kiros will help with the running of the city. He also has Nida."

Ellone smiled distantly. "Before we left the city, they seemed to be getting closer."

Irvine cocked an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

"Don't be blind. I think they like each other. Or, at least, want each other."

"Really? But, I thought that Squall liked chicks..."

Ellone shrugged. "I'm just calling it like I see it. I know Squall fairly well. I mean, he's practically my brother. I really think he's starting to like Nida. Nida has more characteristics that Squall seems to want from a relationship. Well, more than Rinoa had."

"What didn't Rinoa have?" Irvine asked.

"Well, I know that Uncle Laguna thought highly of Rinoa, mostly because of nostalgia reasons. He used to like Rinoa's mother, Julia. But, I always thought that Rinoa was kind of... wrong for him. I mean, she did help him come out of his shell a little, but...."


"But, she was dependant on Squall. I think you know what I mean...." Ellone sighed. "I mean, depending on someone is nice, but I think Squall needs someone who can stand on their own two feet, and will maybe end up protecting Squall. He could never lose responsibility with her, because he always had to protect her." She shook her head. "Here I am speaking ill of the dead."

"I don't think you're speaking ill of her. It's not like you're bad-mouthing her. You're just calling it like you see it according to Squall's wants for a relationship." Irvine cocked his head. "Personally, I don't think Squall really knew what he wanted from Rinoa. She was his first girlfriend. His first anything."

Ellone nodded. "He's so much like Raine." She smiled. "Raine was wonderful. Uncle Laguna loved her very much."

"You loved her very much, too, didn't you?"

Ellone nodded. "You know, I can still remember the day that Squall was born. Because it was so happy, and so sad. I mean, I was so glad that Raine and Uncle Laguna were going to have a baby. I knew that Laguna was glad, too, even though he wasn't there. I knew he wanted to be. And, when Raine first saw Squall, she was so happy. Then...." She sighed shakily. "Then, she died. And, we were taken to Matron's."

"So, do you have anyone special?" Irvine asked.

Ellone blushed. "Irvine!"

"What? It's a valid question?" He gave her a lopsided grin. "Is there a special man?"

She shook her head. "Not really. There's this one guy that works on the Counter-Intelligence division of the Army. He's taken me out a couple of times. He's very kind."

"And hot?"

She blushed.

"I take that as a yes," he snickered. He took off his black cowboy hat and placed it on Ellone's head. "Thanks, Elle."

She ran her fingers over the brim of the hat. "For what?"

"Making me feel better." He cocked his head, looking at Ellone. "You know, you're the only other person who I've let wear my hat except for me and Selphie." He stared off into space. "God, I miss her. Will it ever stop hurting? Will I ever be able to forget?"

Ellone rested her temple on Irvine's shoulder. "No, I don't think you'll ever forget about her. You should never forget about her. But, I think you'll be able to be happy about your memories someday. Like Uncle Laguna and Raine."

Irvine wrapped his arm around her shoulder, sighing deeply. He hoped Ellone was right, that it would eventually stop hurting, but judging by the painful burning ache in his chest, he didn't think it would happen anytime soon.

Zell cocked his head, looking up at the distant sun, which was setting against the rocky Centra horizon. A smirk moved over his face as he heard footsteps behind him. He looked over at Seifer, who watched the sun sink as well.

"I wonder what they'll say when they go to the Desert," Zell murmured.

Seifer looked over at Zell, the dappled Torama fir around the collar of his black velvet coat brushing his cheek. "They'll probably turn around. That damn empathik nuisance will sense our work."

Zell narrowed his eyes, which were swimming between icy blue and bleeding red. "But, we didn't create the plague from magic. It spread naturally through the wind."

"But, the inherit storm was started by us. Even though the Desert picked it up and created a storm from our little breeze, I think that Nida is strong enough to sense even that."

"I think you give him too much credit."

Seifer frowned at Zell, Ultimecia's voice coming clearly out of his mouth. "I think you also underestimate him. He stole our telekinetik ability, and used it himself. He's also not stupid. We need to get rid of him. He's kausing us more of a problem than he should be."

"We'll move into Esthar soon. Then, we can take care of all of them in one swoop." Zell laughed lowly. "I have an idea."

Seifer cocked his head. "Such as...?" A horrible grin spread over his face. "I hear that tone in your voice."

"Well, Squall will have to give a declaration of War against us in the near future. I think we should have a little fun then."

Seifer's grin widened into a full-fledged smile. "I've had another interesting vision."

"Of?" Zell asked.

"Saffron Dincht."

A sliver of sadness came over Zell's face. It was mostly across his eyes, where a watery look of distant misery could be seen underneath the hard veneer of angry claret that belonged to Adel. Seifer noticed, watching the other blonde warily. Would this cause Zell's consciousness to resurrect and try to overthrow Adel for control of the small martial artist's body and mind?

"What about her?" Zell asked, Adel's voice coming through as very measured, like she was watching her words carefully.

"She went to Esthar asking about her precious son..." Seifer mused, his voice light and taunting.

"Zell is my son!" Adel roared, no veneer of Zell's voice in her tone. "He's mine! She stole him from me. The Esthar Army stole him from me. He is my son...." Zell clenched his hands into tight fists.

"That's the spirit," Seifer cooed, totally sarcastic. He ran the backs of his fingernails over Zell's cheekbone. "I can feel that our little plan is working..."

Zell laughed as the sun sank behind the mountains, giving way to the waxing moon, so large and pale in the sky. It was reminiscent of the light setting around Esthar, before darkness came and swallowed it up.

"What do you think is really going on, Nida?" Quistis asked, looking out the window. "I mean, do you think it's a real sandstorm?"

"No." Nida watched as the Kashkabald Desert slowly became a pinprick on the horizon. "It's more than that."

"So, does that mean that Botany and Odine are in trouble?"

"I don't know..." Nida whispered.

Quistis narrowed her eyes, chuckling under her breath. "Would you be really broken up if something did happen to Botany?"

Nida frowned. "What, are you suggesting that I wish harm on Botany?" His hands tightened on the steering wheel. "You don't think much of me, do you?"

"It was just a joke!" Quistis exclaimed. "Don't be so sensitive. Actually, the fact that you are so sensitive about it is because you're really starting to fall for Squall, aren't you?"

"And, what does that have to do with Botany?" Nida asked.

"Because there's something going on between Botany and Squall. Or, at least, there was something going on."

Nida blushed, not answering.

"Don't worry," Quistis whispered. "Squall likes you more, I think."

Nida blushed even further.

"Why are you blushing?" the blonde asked.

"Squall kissed me," Nida whispered, biting his lip. He could still vaguely taste Squall's lips on his own, so warm and soft.

"He did?" Quistis asked, a happy glint coming to her sapphire eyes. "What did you do?"

Nida cast her a sidelong glance, his cheeks burning. "What do you think? I kissed him back."

Quistis smiled. "I'm so glad! You've liked him for a really long time. So, what was it like?"

Nida smiled, remembering everything about how it felt to kiss Squall. The way his body felt, what his hair was like against Nida's palms, how warm and balmy his breath was, how arousing it had been, how he'd felt Squall's arousal. "It was nice.... Really nice."

"So, did you just kiss, or did you put your hand in his pants or anything?"

"Quistis!" Nida exclaimed.

"What?" She shrugged.

"No, we got interrupted before we could go past tongue action."

Quistis cocked her head. "Interrupted? By who?"

"Saffron Dincht."

Quistis frowned, the smile melting from her elegant face. "Mrs. Dincht? Oh....." Her eyes clouded with sadness. "What happened?"

"Squall was beginning to tell her about Zell, but I got called away, so I don't know what happened...." Nida sighed deeply. "I can imagine how hard it's going to be to tell her...."

Quistis looked out the window as the Desert came into view. "She a strong woman."

"That doesn't mean anything! You could be the strongest person in the world, and this would still be agony..." Nida sighed. "Now, we should focus on the task at hand."

Quistis looked out the window. "Well, it doesn't seem as windy as I thought it would be...."

Nida cringed as he began the landing process. "There's magic here."

"What?" Quistis looked over at him. "Are you okay?"

"No, no... It's fine. It's very fine... Distant. Like they purposely used a very small amount. I can't really feel it at all... But..."

"It's still there, hanging..." Quistis finished.

Nida nodded, tucking some of his silken ebony hair behind his ears. "I can't put my finger on it." When the Ragnarok had landed, Nida narrowed his eyes, looking out into the grainy horizon. "Shouldn't the troops be moving? I mean, I know that our visibility is limited, but shouldn't we see at least a little movement?"

Quistis nodded slowly. "Yeah..." She stood. "Might as well check it out."

Nida put a restraining hand on her arm. "No. We aren't going out there." He narrowed his eyes. "First, we'll open a patch to Botany and Dr. Odine."

Quistis jerked her head in agreement. "Fine." She punched a few buttons. "Lieutenant Gillespie. This is Headmaster Trepe on the Ragnarok. Please Respond. Over."

There was a brief crackling, before Botany's detached voice answered "Everything's fine here. No change...."

Nida narrowed his eyes. "Lieutenant. This is Captain Nomura. What about this windstorm? Are the troops being sheltered?"

More static, before the answer "Everything's fine here. No change," came over the communicator.

Quistis and Nida warily looked at each other.

"Botany?" Quistis asked.

"Everything's fine here. No change."

"He's dead..." Nida whispered, his voice barely audible.

Quistis blinked. "You think so?"

"But... It couldn't have been from magic...."

Quistis bit her lower lip, looking out to the windy, desolate desert. "Then, what could it have been?"

Squall slowly padded down the hallway, staring at his bare feet. He'd abandoned his socks a while ago, after talking to Zell's mother. Now, he was just walking up and down the halls, really hoping that he didn't run into Saffron again. It made him feel pretty terrible, but he didn't want to see that distant anguish in her eyes. He saw it too much in everyone around him. He saw it too much in his own eyes. Squall found that he was making his way to Laguna's room. He nodded at the guard that was standing at the door.

"Is Kiros around?" Squall asked.

The guard shook his head. "Poor guy. He stayed with Laguna for hours and hours, and finally went to bed."

Squall nodded. "Is it okay if I go in?"

"Of course, President Leonhart."

"Please don't call me that," Squall whispered. "Laguna is still President."

The guard saluted at Squall entered the dimly lit room. Laguna's pyjamas and sheets were different than they were when Squall saw him last. At least Laguna was being well taken care of. It was probably mostly Kiros's doing. Squall lowered his body in the chair beside Laguna's bed. His father was very still, and looked more like a statue in a museum than his usual lively self.

"I talked to Mrs. Dincht today. I told her about Zell. She didn't take it too well," Squall whispered. "But, I guess I didn't expect her to. I don't think I helped. I'm not very sympathetic." Squall rested his elbows on the mattress, cupping his chin in the cupola of his hands. "You're better at human relations than I am." Squall sighed. "You know... I think you're easier to talk to like this..." Squall watched his father breathe. It looked almost unnatural. "Maybe unconscious people are the only people I can really talk to. I mean, the first time I really talked to someone about myself was when Rinoa was passed out, and I took her to Esthar that first time. And, now, with you." Squall smiled sadly. "I've made a lot more friends in the past few years, but I still don't really talk about myself. I guess... I'm afraid." Squall stared off into space. "But, of what? Of being rejected? I mean, look what happened with Rinoa. I opened up to her about a lot of things, and it didn't end well at all."

One of his hands moved down to the comforter, and he began nervously tracing the stitched pattern in it. "Well, I mean, I guess I talked to Nida about myself. I told him about Botany." Squall pursed his full lips. "I'm worried about him. I mean, I'm worried about Quistis, too, but I can't help but be a little more worried about Nida, which is stupid. I've known Quistis for so much longer."

Squall paused, as if waiting for Laguna to respond. "But, I like him. And, not like I like Xu or Raijin. I mean, I like him. I guess 'like' is the wrong word to use there. Maybe 'want' is better. I want him." A warm blush moved over Squall's face. "It was nice to kiss him today." He looked down at Laguna's still face. "I'm so glad you're passed out right now, or I would die of mortification." He internally winced. "I didn't mean it like that. But...." he sighed. "I don't know... I can't really think of how to describe kissing Nida. It was kind of the same experience as kissing Rinoa... That gentle feeling of almost coming home, but it was also the total opposite. It was utterly... Masculine I guess is the best word because it's Rinoa's polar opposite. I didn't think for a moment that I was kissing a girl, or was being kissed like a girl." Squall laughed darkly, quietly. "God, I can't believe I'm talking about this with you... You're my father! I shouldn't be talking about what I like or what turns me on and gets me hard."

Squall frowned, his train of thought changing. "It was hard to look in Mrs. Dincht's eyes. She was trying to be so strong. At first, it was just this disbelief and scepticism. I mean, it was easier to look into her eyes then, but I had to tell her. No matter how much it hurts her, it's better that she knows the truth... Right?"

Laguna was silent and offered no comfort.

"After she saw that video... I could see her heart breaking, I could just see it in her eyes. She was trying to hard to be strong, not to fall apart. She put up this wall, but I could see her conflict. She couldn't hide it completely. I'm glad that I haven't had to see her again...." Squall sighed again. "I know that sounds horrible, but she just...." he struggled for his words, trying to find them in his mind. He grumbled. "She just fucking reminds me of me!" Squall huffed his air out, blowing up into his shaggy bangs. "She's putting up the same emotional wall that I put up. I could see it. She was trying so hard to hold back her emotions. I've been doing the same thing... Especially lately.... What, with all the shit that's been happening."

Squall looked at Laguna's sleeping form. "I wonder if I can actually just let go, even once..." He looked at his hand on the comforter. "Even with Rinoa, who I was supposed to feel safe and loved with, I always kept my guard up, because I was supposed to be her Knight, supposed to protect her. Maybe I didn't trust her enough to let her protect me. Maybe I want to find someone that I can trust that much. Is it Nida?" Squall rambled, now talking more to himself than to his unconscious father. "I know that I feel at ease with him. But, I'm still kind of new at this whole gay thing... Fuck, I'm new at relationships, period. I'm not very experienced." Squall looked at Laguna, his face hardening. "You know, Dad. Sometimes, I hate you for getting in this coma. I wish that you could just take over your fucking city so I could get on with trying to lead a normal life. Maybe I don't want to save the world! Maybe I don't want to have everyone rely on me. Maybe I just want to worry about kissing Nida, and not have to think about crushing one of my best friend's mother! Maybe I don't want to be everyone's Knight. Maybe I don't want to be one at all....." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "And, maybe I never wanted to."

Nida looked at the organic scan, his eyebrows flying up. "Okay.... Quistis, what do you make of this?"

The blonde frowned. "Well, that they're all dead..."

Nida frowned. "Yeah, but what are these trace readings? It's everywhere, but it's not big enough to be anything alive..."

Nida and Quistis were still sitting in the cockpit of the Ragnarok, not daring to venture out of the ship, which they were both glad was air tight. They were huddled over some monitors, taking air samples and reading the results, which were confusing. The magic in the air was getting weaker and weaker, which made Nida very perplexed. Something caused all the death that they saw on the monitor, but it wasn't magical.

"Does this thing read single cell life?"

Nida nodded slowly. "But, it can't pinpoint the exact species of something that small..."

"Does this ship have any sort of contagion detector?" She asked, her voice deadly serious.

"I'm not sure. Maybe...." Nida looked at the panels. "You think it's a virus of some kind?"

She nodded. "I can look up local diseases indigenous to this area on the computer. You look to see if we can get a lock on what it is...."

"Yes, Ma'am," he gave her a salute and looked at the screens. "Well, if it is a disease, good thing we didn't go out. And, it would explain all the soldiers being wiped out..."

Quistis nodded, and then froze. "Dr. Odine..."

"What about him?" Nida asked, turning to look at her.

"If he's dead..." She paused, her cobalt eyes widening. "Then.. What about Matron?"

Nida frowned. "Well, we didn't pick up Odine, or any other person on the life reader. But, I can still feel his presence."

Quistis held up a gloved finger. "I remember Xu talking about Odine making a machine in case something happened. Maybe he finished it..."

"Machine? What sort of machine?"

"One that would synthesize the ability he was using to hide Edea."

"Anything yet?" Nida asked.

Quistis shook her head. "No. And, I'm starting to think that I might not find a virus local to here. I mean, could that magic trace you're feeling be the wind, or the start of the wind?"

Nida nodded. "It could be that. It could be a lot of things." He cocked his head. "Do you think that Seifer and Zell, or rather, Ultimecia and Adel, found some sort of airborne contagion, and used just a hint of magic to send it in a sandstorm over our troops?"

Quistis touched the tip of her nose. "You're such a smart boy...." She trailed off as she looked out the window. "The dust is clearing."

The both leaned forward, peering out the cockpit glass. When the sand settled, there were skeletal things that resembled bodies strewn about the Kashkabald Desert, their bones bleached white compared to the endless gold sand, their skin grey and papery.

"What did this?" Nida exclaimed. "From what I know of diseased, nothing could move this fast..."

"Not unless it was enhanced by Adel or Ultimecia."

Nida's doe brown eyes darkened. "They killed everyone here.... They killed Dr. Odine. We should probably try to get a sample of some sort..." He cocked his head sadly. "But, we don't know anything about it...."

"Well," Quistis began. "It must be airborne, so could we get a sample of air, and bring it back to the city?"

Nida nodded. "I think... so. There's some sort of mechanism that this ship uses for collecting things in space, so it must be able to work." Nida got up. "I think it's in the engineering room. I'll be back. Maybe you should contact Esthar and tell Squall and Xu what's going on."

Quistis nodded. "I'm on it." When Nida went down the elevator, she began to try and patch into Esthar. The blonde just hoped that there wasn't too much static interference. She wasn't counting on too much, because she knew that the difficulty in communicating with Botany had been because of Adel and Ultimecia. She pressed a few buttons, and waited for connection.

"General Yun Ling."

"Xu, it's Quistis. Nida and I are in the Kashkabald Desert..."

"Hang on," Xu interrupted. There was a pause, and a click, and then Xu's voice. "Okay, I put you on speaker. Me, Squall and Fujin are all here. May as well tell us all what's going on?"

"Okay," Quistis said. "Well, we landed here, and tried to contact Lieutenant Gillespie, but got static, as well as the same repeated message of 'Everything's fine here. No change.' Nida kept beaconing him, and we realized it was just a recording of Botany's voice."

"What does that mean?" Squall asked, his tired voice coming through the intercom.

"It means that Botany is dead. So is Dr. Odine."

"DEAD?" Fujin asked. "How?"

"It appears to have been some sort of airborne disease. When we first landed, Nida sensed the barest trace of magic in the air, but not strong enough to have caused the level of death we're seeing here. The entire platoon was wiped out. They're all corpses."

"Shit," Squall cursed.

"We've decided not to go out to investigate. Currently, Nida is trying to collect an air sample so we can look at it. If we can't determine what it is from the ship, we'll come back to Esthar."

"So, you don't know what the disease is?" Xu asked, almost at the same time as Squall asked "What sort of disease could move so rapidly?"

"Well, to answer both your questions, neither of us know. Nida is almost positive that the disease was originally created by Adel or Ultimecia, and cultivated regularly, like a normal disease. The trace magic he may be feelings is probably from the original origins of the sandstorm."

"So, you think that Adel and or Ultimecia started this wind storm because they needed the virus to travel?" Squall asked.

Quistis nodded, then verbally confirmed his answer to be correct when she remembered that they wouldn't be able to see her nod. "Yeah. The storm is relatively clear now. That's how we can see all the bodies. Some of them are in a pretty advanced stage of rot."

"Do you think even with the Esthar technology that we'll be able to figure out what this virus is?" Fujin asked.

"We're not sure. I think we'll know more once Nida gets the sample. If we find that it's not too, too dangerous, I think we'll go out in gas masks."

"Are you sure that's safe?" Squall asked, worry lacing his voice.

"Don't worry..." Quistis purred knowingly. "We're both fairly intelligent." She laughed gently into the communicator.

"What's so funny?" Xu asked on the other end.

"Nothing... Right, Squall?"

There was a pause, then Fujin's voice came on. "Why is he blushing?"

"Never mind," Quistis said laughingly. "So, is there any good news? Like, how we can beat Adel and Ultimecia?"

"Fujin's pregnant," Xu said, which was followed by a grimace that Quistis knew was Fujin's voice.

"Really?!" Quistis exclaimed. "Well, that is good news.... Isn't it?"

"Yeah," Fujin replied quietly. "Yeah, it is a good thing..."

"Oh, Nida's coming back up. I'll put you guys on speaker as well."

"Okay, back..." Nida exclaimed, slumping into his chair.

"What did you find?" Squall asked, personally feeling better as soon as he heard Nida's voice.

The Asian man nearly jumped out of his chair when Squall's voice wafted through the cockpit. He gasped. "Jesus Christ!"

Xu laughed on the other end. "Did we scare you, sweetheart?"

"Yes..." He frowned. "Okay, I got the air sample. The computer is analyzing it now. It should be done any second..." He turned on a monitor, touching the screen to activate a few things. "Hmmm... It can't really read it. It's bringing up possible similar diseases, so maybe there's a mixture, and Adel and Ultimecia mixed them all together..."

Quistis leaned over his shoulder. "Anthrax... Flesh-Eating Bacteria, Ebola Sudan, etc."

"Hmmm..." Nida looked at the screen. "It's dissipating. Once it hits the air, it's much weaker... But, we can't be sure of that unless we get a sample of tissue of one of the bodies."

"Is it safe to go outside?" Xu asked.

"From this, if we have gas masks, and don't touch anything, we should be fine. But, there are spacesuits aboard, that could be used as a field Hazmat suit."

"So, there are no survivors?" Squall asked.

"No," Nida answered. "The Bio-scan showed zilch, except for the disease's traces. So, Dr. Odine and Botany are dead."

"What does that mean for Edea?" Fujin asked.

"I think that Odine made his machine," Quistis explained. "We'd have to go in the building to make sure."

"Do a few more tests before you go waltzing out there," Squall commanded. "Fujin, you go send out a warning for nobody to go to the Kashkabald region until I say so."

"Yes, fine..." There were the noises of Fujin getting out of her chair. They could hear a door opening and closing. "You two, get in and out of there as quickly as possible. Go out and check the settlement there. Only take a sample if it isn't endangering your lives."

"Yes, sir!" Quistis exclaimed teasingly.

"Shut up," Squall muttered.

"Oh, don't worry, Squall," Quistis pointed out, smiling as she placed a finger on her smooth, pale cheek. "Nida will be back and safe in your bed before you know it!"

"Quistis!" Nida exclaimed angrily.

There was a silence from Squall on the other end of the communicator as Xu laughed loudly. There was a heavy contact sound, and then Xu cried out. "Ow, Squall! Why are you kicking me!?"

Nida glowered at Quistis. "I'm never telling you anything ever again."

She just waved her hand. "What? I think it's cute!"

"What's going on?" Xu asked. "I'm confused. As well as in pain, thanks to Squall."

"Squall and Nida kissed!" Quistis exclaimed before anyone else could say anything.

"You dog!" Xu exclaimed.

"This is not the right time!" Squall yelled, his voice clipped.

"I agree..." Nida muttered. "We'll do some research, and get back to Esthar as soon as possible," Nida muttered, his cheeks flushed. "I'm sorry, Squall."

"It's fine...." Squall muttered. "Xu can you gather some sort of medical team to look into anything that Quistis and Nida bring back."

"Okay, stud..." she teased, leaving the room.

"I'll go get the suits and gear together," Quistis said, winking at Nida.

After she'd left, Nida sighed. "I'm really sorry. I couldn't help but confide in Quistis.... I'm so mortified right now."

"It's okay...." Squall whispered. "I told Mrs. Dincht about Zell."

"How did she take it?"

There was a pause. "She held it together pretty well. But, she was in agony. She was trying so hard to be strong. But, I could see her pain...." Squall sighed. "Nida?"


"Just.... Be careful, okay?" Squall's voice was uncharacteristically subdued and gentle.

"I will, and I'm still really sorry... I know I shouldn't have told her about it."

"I'm not angry. Just a little embarrassed. Come back soon."

"I will. We'll try to get back as soon as possible." Nida severed the communication, the sound of Squall's voice echoing in the cockpit and tingling his skin. He slowly got up and went down the elevator to meet Quistis. After a half hour of struggling with gear, and Nida giving Quistis angry looks while she just laughed at him, her sapphire eyes sparkling, they left the Ragnarok, putting up the airlock to make sure no contaminated air got into the ship.

"Do you think that decon set up will work?" Nida asked, his voice crackly through the communicator in his suit.

"I hope so. Or, we'll be pretty dead."

"You're not funny," Nida muttered. "Should we check to see what Odine was doing first?" He asked.

"Yeah..." Quistis jogged in the sand. "Let's just make this fast. I'm getting kind of claustrophobic in this suit."

Nida walked quickly to catch up with Quistis, who was already going into the makeshift building that had been set up. She gasped, turning her face away when she saw the two slumped corpses. Nida pursed his lips. They could tell which one was Odine because of the clown-like garb, which was so bright compared to his withered flesh. The other corpse was sitting at a table, slumped over some maps, flies all around it. It was more than likely Botany. The hair was a dull purple shade.

Nida took his breath in quickly. "Let's get this over as soon as possible, and get back to Esthar."

Squall stared up at the dark ceiling, stretched out on his bed. He'd been in the same position for a couple of hours. He was trying to go to sleep, but found that he couldn't. Horrible images of the events of the past few days kept running over and over in his mind. Rinoa's neck being snapped, Zell and Seifer and their burning, possessed eyes, Selphie's impalement, and Mrs. Dincht's sad eyes. Now, he also had to think about Botany being dead. True, he didn't see it, but he heard about it second-hand. After Quistis and Nida had returned from Esthar, they'd been shipped off to medical for examinations. But, they'd picked up a few samples, which were being looked into. Squall had also been stuck in tactical meetings, so he didn't get to see Quistis or Nida at all since they returned to the city. Squall had heard about Nida and Quistis being fine, but hadn't gotten to see the Asian man. By the time all his meetings were done, it had been one in the morning, and he figured Nida was sleeping.

So, it was three in the morning, and Squall was still staring at his ceiling, hoping to fall asleep. But, he knew it wouldn't happen. And, with the bloodied images of death, he was also thinking about himself and Nida in the kitchen, what Nida had tasted like and felt like. He slowly sat up, running his hands through his hair. He wasn't going to fall asleep anytime soon. Maybe he could think of some battle plans, or check on Laguna. He just knew he couldn't lay there, thinking about Selphie, Rinoa and Botany, or thinking about Nida. Squall also had the gnawing desire deep down to walk past Nida's room in the slim hope that he would still be awake, plagued with the same restlessness that Squall was experiencing.

He slowly walked down the hall, his bare feet making no noise on the floor. The halls were deserted, except for a couple of guards, who just walked past him, mildly saluting. He found himself not walking towards the Presidential Office, or Laguna's room. He tried not to admit to himself that he was going towards Nida's room. The closer he got, the tighter his chest felt, like there was depleted oxygen all around him. When he came to the door he knew was Nida's, he stopped. Squall didn't know what to do. Should he knock? Nida was probably sleeping, and he didn't want to wake him. But, what if he was awake. He pressed his palms to the door, just exhaling. He sighed deeply, silently, and pressed his forehead to the door. What the fuck am I doing? Am I hoping he's awake so we can screw? He looked down at the ground, seeing a small sliver of light. Hope fluttered in Squall's chest. Nida's light was on.

Now that Squall knew Nida was maybe awake, he stood frozen in front of the door, his palms still pressed to it. He couldn't bring himself to knock on the door. Why? Squall slowly balled his hands into fists. Why was he acting like this? He wasn't a stupid, scared little girl. Before any real hesitation could grip him, Squall rapped on the door. He heard the faint sound of Nida's voice, possibly saying "Yeah?", and then he opened the door.

Nida looked up when Squall entered. He put a bookmark in the graphic novel he was reading. "Squall?" He looked over at the clock. "What happened?"

Squall looked at Nida in confusion. "Nothing... Oh, because it's so late. I'm sorry... Did I interrupt anything?"

"No..." Nida waved his hand. He was reclined in bed, reading Kabuki: Circle Of Blood, his body under the sheets, still dressed in a tight black T-Shirt and his boxers. "I was just reading. I couldn't sleep."

"At least I'm not the only one," Squall muttered, stepping into the room. "Look, I know it's late, but..."

Nida cocked his head, putting the book on the floor. "I'm sure you're having the same problems I'm having. You keep seeing things like Rinoa's death, Selphie's impalement, Seifer and Zell, and their horrible eyes. Now, I keep seeing Botany and Odine, rotting...." He shook his head. "I'm sure half the Palace is still awake." He smiled. "You don't have to hover in the doorway, Squall."

The acting President flinched slightly in embarrassment. "Sorry..." He closed the door behind him.

"Why do you seem so nervous?" Nida asked. "Because we kissed today, or because I blabbed about it to Quistis?"

"I don't care about that..." Squall muttered, waving his hand. He then crossed his arms over his chest. "I can't believe I'm going to say this, but do you want to know what I was thinking just before I knocked on your door?"

"Sure," Nida said quietly, surprise in his voice.

"You sound surprised."

"You're not the sharing type," Nida pointed out.

"True," Squall muttered. "I was thinking 'What the fuck am I doing? Am I hoping he's awake so we can screw?' And, I almost feel terrible about it. I mean, Rinoa and Selphie were brutally murdered. Botany just died, and I just keep thinking about what it was like to kiss you, and what it would be like to fuck you."

Nida blinked a few times. "You certainly don't beat around the bush." He tried to turn his head to hide the blush seeping onto his cheeks.

"Well, if I didn't say it now, I don't think I ever would. I was losing my nerve pretty quickly..." Squall's voice lowered to a hush. "Nida, ask me to stay.... I don't want to be alone right now. I just keep seeing Mrs. Dincht's eyes, keep seeing Selphie's, Rinoa's, Seifer's and Zell's eyes."

"I would never ask you to leave," Nida whispered. "You're like a fantasy come true." Nida pulled the sheets up, inviting Squall into his bed, which the scarred SeeD quickly took him up on. He crawled under the covers, moulding his body to Nida's side. He actually felt safe when the sheets were wrapped around both his and Nida's bodies. "Do you know if they found out what that virus was?"

Squall shrugged, wrapping his arms around Nida's waist, and pressing his face against the Asian man's throat. "I don't know, and right now, I really don't care. I was in meetings until one in the morning. I don't want to think about it right now." He tilted his face up. "But, I think I will anyway."

Nida met Squall's gaze. "I don't think we'll ever forget."

Squall quickly caught Nida's upper lip between his own, his insides curling when Nida hungrily kissed him back. Squall moved his hands to the other man's shoulders, pushing Nida down to the mattress, his own body sprawled over top of the Asian Man's body. The scarred SeeD opened his mouth against Nida's, letting Nida's tongue fill his oral cavity. One of Nida's hands moved into Squall's hair, while the other one slowly moved down his back, resting just above the curve of his ass, just above the lip of his pants. This motion caused their hips to be fused together, and caused both of them to feel the beginnings of erections, trapped between their bodies. Squall's hands began to slowly move down Nida's sides, until he reached the hem of the black shirt the other man wore. The shirt was so tight that the fabric was plastered to Nida's torso. Squall began to slowly push it up, using his fingernails to run up Nida's sides, touching the newly exposed flesh, which caused Nida to squirm, moaning into Squall's mouth.

Squall began to push the shirt up farther, but stopped when Nida's hands swept under his own white tank top, rapidly moving it up his chest. Nida broke their kiss when he pulled the shirt off. Their mouths immediately found each others again, and Nida's hands began to greedily explore Squall's exposed torso as their tongues lapped and whipped against each other in the wet cavern of their mouths. Squall purred when Nida's fingers gently brushed his nipples, then gasped when the Asian man quickly rolled them over so he was pinning Squall to the mattress in a surprising show of dominance.

Squall slowly opened his eyes when Nida broke their kiss. Nida was sitting between his legs, his hands and eyes roaming over Squall's chest. Squall breathed out, arching his back when Nida bent over his body, fastening his mouth around one of Squall's hardened nipples. Squall's hands clawed up Nida's back, gripping his T-shirt, as if trying to rip it off the Asian man's body. Nida had to pull away because of Squall's efforts to pull his shirt off. He sat up, raising his arms above his head, letting Squall undress him. Squall's eyes moved over Nida's bared chest after he'd thrown the shirt across the room. Nida had a body that was similar to his own, lean and slender. But, Nida had a bit more muscle development, or maybe his more olive-toned skin brought it out better than Squall's pale flesh did. Squall's laser blue eyes stopped on the jagged scar over Nida's ribcage. From his fight in Galbadia. Squall reached his fingers out, running them over the scar.

Nida's whole body shivered when Squall touched the scar, which was still sort of tender. Then, the auburn-haired man sat up, and lowered his body into Nida's lap, so his legs were straddling Nida's lap. Nida just looked into Squall's eyes, not really believing that this was happening. He'd fantasized about Squall in so many ways, so many situations and positions, that it was hard to believe that it could actually be happening, that Squall could actually be sitting, half naked and horny, in his lap. Nida moved his mouth down Squall's throat, tasting the beginnings of a salty sheen of sweat on the other man's flesh. He returned his mouth to Squall's nipple, which caused the brunette to gasp into Nida's ear. Nida shivered when Squall's mouth closed over his earlobe. As Nida suckled on Squall's nipple, his hands moved to the other man's hips, rocking them along with his own, which caused Squall to chuckle softly, the laugh mixing with a grunt of pleasure. Nida could feel Squall's erection, fully hard, pressed against his own, trapped in Squall's baggy flannel pants.

Squall lay his palms flat on the sides of Nida's face, his fingers running of the lines of Nida's gracefully high cheekbones. He pulled Nida's face away from his nipple, and brought his mouth down on Nida's. In between kisses, he breathlessly panted against Nida's lips. "Fuck me," he whispered. "Fuck me, Nida." He looked at Nida, giving him a seductive glance from under lush lashes. It must have worked, because Squall murmured, a noise caught between desire and surprise, when Nida almost flung him down on the bed, his legs spread out around Nida's thighs. Squall raised his hips in helpful offering when Nida's hands gripped the top of his pyjama pants, and yanked them down his legs in one motion. Once Nida had tossed the pants to the floor, he looked at Squall, who was laying on his back, legs spread around Nida, completely nude. Nida's eyes couldn't help but travel to Squall's fully erect penis, and they couldn't help but stay there, tracing the veins, memorizing every line. Just looking at Squall's cock and hearing him panting gently was almost enough to get Nida off, right then, right there. He raised his chocolate brown eyes to meet Squall's gaze.

"You're such a fucking wet dream come true," Nida whispered, running his hands up Squall's thighs. "I've thought and dreamt about you like this a million times."

Squall smirked distantly. His hands pressed onto Nida's hips, and slammed them against his own, so Nida's trapped hardness brushed against his nude crotch. It caused both of them to groan, and caused Nida to throw his head back. Squall began to pull Nida's pants down, but the way that Nida was rocking his hips caused Squall's hands to slide off. He groaned in frustration, biting his lip as he watched Nida take the rest of his own clothes off. His gaze, like Nida's, travelled to the phallus jutting out from Nida's body. Squall groaned, already feeling what it would be like to have Nida pounding into his body. As Squall watched Nida's crotch, the Asian pilot leaned over to the nightstand, rummaging around in the drawer. He came away with a tube of lubricant and a condom.

"You're certainly prepared..." Squall panted, arching his back when Nida parted his legs even further.

"Well, I am gay, aren't I? It's, like, prerequisite to carry around lube and condoms." He popped the cap on the lubricant, and squeezed some onto his fingertip. He put the bottle on the sheets beside the condom, and used his other hand to run over Squall's ass, parting his cheeks. When Nida's finger and the cool liquid touched the opening to Squall's body, he sucked his breath in quickly, squirming at the alien feeling of the lubricant. He moaned lowly when Nida's finger poked into his body. Squall's moan turned into heavy pants, while Nida purred, Squall's body so hot around his finger. He pushed it in up to the knuckle, crooking his finger to find Squall's prostate. When he found the smooth, almond sized organ, Squall jerked on the mattress, his hips thrusting against Nida's hand.

Squall moaned again as Nida's finger swirled in his body, working his channel with the lubricant. He whimpered when Nida pulled his finger out. His chest rose and fell quickly as Nida prepared his finger again with lubricant, as well as a second and third one. When two fingers entered him this time, Squall bit his lip, because he knew he was going to make a really loud moan. It came out garbled, like a sob. When the two fingers worked on stretching out Squall's rectum, Nida's other hand ran up the acting President's thigh, and moved to his ass. He gave Squall a teasing, open handed slap on the ass, which caused Squall to moan again, and clench his muscles around Nida's fingers.

"Do that again," Squall muttered, his voice thick with desire.

"What?" Nida asked, inserting a third finger into Squall's ass.

Squall moaned, and once he could form words, he replied "Spank me again. But, harder...."

"Harder?" Nida asked, an eyebrow cocked. "Okay..." He gave Squall another slap, one that stung his own hand. But, Squall seemed to enjoy it, because his hips arched towards Nida's. Nida felt his own erecting becoming cumbersome, so he pulled his fingers out of Squall's body, satisfied that he was thoroughly prepared. As he reached for the condom, he rolled Squall over. He bit his lip as he looked at Squall's stretched entry. There was also a slightly red handprint.

Squall positioned himself on all fours as he heard Nida open the condom package. This was sort of reminiscent of his fuck with Botany, but this was nicer, much nicer. At least he knew Nida. It felt a bit safer. And, he was sort of surprised in himself, at how much he'd liked the stinging feeling as Nida had slapped his ass. He felt Nida bend over his body as he heard the tube of lubricant being opened and closed again. He gasped in surprise, then moaned when Nida spanked him once more.

"Too hard?" Nida asked, feeling the sting in his palm. He moved one hand around Squall's hips, gripping the brunette's erection. He used the other hand to position himself at Squall's stretched entry.

"No..." Squall whispered. "Pound into me, Nida..."

Nida breathed out into Squall's ear as he slowly pushed himself into the heat of Squall's anus. It turned into a soft, almost delicate sounding moan as his cock was completely engulfed in Squall's body, which was so hot around him, it was like the inside of a furnace. Squall arched his body, moulding his back to Nida's chest, so that they were both on their knees as Nida began to thrust into Squall. Nida's hand began to move in rhythm with his hips, his fist working Squall's cock as his own penis thrust deeper and shallower in Squall's body. Squall draped his hands over Nida's shoulders, just wanting something to grip onto. Squall had asked for a pounding, and he was getting one. Nida wasn't hurting him in the least, but it was vigorous, rough, an indulgence that Squall had never got to experience with Rinoa. And, Botany hadn't really counted, because they had been total strangers. Squall had ever only had the kind of sex he really wanted in his fantasies about Seifer and Zell. And, now, with Nida, that idea of the fantasy was coming true. This was so much better than any fantasy he could have thought up.

Nida's mouth moved over the nape of Squall's neck, gently digging his teeth in, giving Squall love bites. A part of Nida still wondered if it was a dream, if he was going to wake up any second. It was still kind of hard to believe that he was fucking Squall Leonhart, that he was actually inside Squall. But, the pants and moans that Squall would elicit always brought him back. Nida knew this wouldn't be the 'best' sex he'd ever had. First time with someone never was. Saying the first time was the best was like saying it would never get better. Nida knew that this sex wouldn't last a terribly long amount of time, and he didn't know exactly what Squall liked. At least he knew that Squall liked it a little rough, and liked to be spanked. He gave Squall a small slap on the ass, then moved his arm around the other man's torso, pulling their bodies together, as closely as they could go. Squall's head lolled onto Nida's shoulder, and Nida craned his neck so he could cover Squall's mouth with his own. Nida really, really hoped that this wouldn't be a one night kind of thing, like Squall and Botany had. Now that Nida had a real, non-fantasy version of sex with Squall, he didn't want to just accept that this could be the only time.

Squall sighed into Nida's mouth as the pace of the other man's hand on his cock quickened. At that moment, Squall felt very safe in Nida's arms, like Adel and Ultimecia would never be able to harm him. That nothing could ever harm him. His lip quivered against Nida's when he realized it was the scenario he'd talked about with his comatose father. He felt like he was letting his walls come down, that he didn't have to protect Nida. He was letting go. That was the last thought he had before the tightness of orgasm seized his body, moving through all his muscles. His semen splattered on his belly, the sheets, and Nida's hand. He moaned quietly into Nida's mouth as the Asian man still pounded into him, milking himself to orgasm.

Nida felt Squall come against his hand, and his arm tightened around Squall's body. After a few more thrusts into Squall's body, he felt the other man coil his internal muscles, so that they were gripping Nida's cock tightly. Nida panted heavily into Squall's mouth, his tongue lashing against the brunette's as he came. He felt the hot stickiness, trapped in the condom, sighing as his body slumped around Squall's. Nida's mouth slid off Squall's, and he pressed his face into Squall's neck, the scarred man's skin slick against his own sweat covered body.

Squall moved one of his hands into Nida's hair, the other arm was still draped around Nida's bicep, offering some brief post-coital cuddling. He was almost disappointed in not feeling Nida's semen explode directly into his body, but safe sex was a small price to pay considering the overall feeling. After a few moments, Nida gently pulled away, slowly pulling out of Squall's body. Both moaned, their bodies overly sensitive to stimuli. Nida pulled the condom off his softening cock, and threw it in the trash can. He brought his fingers to his lips, licking off Squall's semen as he regarded the other man. "Come on... We should wash ourselves down before we try to sleep."

Squall nodded distantly, getting up. He stood beside the bed on shaky legs, swooning slightly. He couldn't really feel his limbs, except for a tingling. Nida wrapped his arms around Squall's body, kissing him gently. "Want some help?" he asked, slightly laughing.

"Just make sure I don't fall over..." Squall muttered, kissing Nida's lips with the barest hint of pressure, tasting his own semen on them. They both walked to the bathroom in Nida's room. Squall leaned against the sink, still feeling wobbly. He took the wet facecloth that Nida offered to him. "So," Squall murmured. "You're a man of many talents. You're an aviation genius, you can cook, and you fuck like a god."

Nida gave Squall a half grin. "Are you sure I didn't hurt you when I spanked you? It stung my hand..."

"Well, it kind of hurt, but I liked it, so, no... You didn't hurt me." Squall leaned in, kissing Nida hungrily, lapping at Nida's tongue with his own. After they broke apart, he looked down at his body. "There, all clean." Squall suddenly frowned.

Nida looked over as he brushed his teeth. "What is it?" He asked, spitting out the toothpaste in the sink. "I think I have an extra toothbrush if that's your problem..."

"No...." Squall cocked his head. "Do you want me to stay the night?"

Nida rinsed his mouth out, giving Squall a look. "Of course I do.... Why would you ask that?"

"I don't know...." Squall shrugged. He took a still boxed toothbrush from Nida. As he slowly removed the packaging, he sighed. "You know... You're the first person who I've ever let go with, and that scares me."

"Let go?" Nida asked, sitting on the edge of the bathtub as Squall brushed his teeth. "What about Rinoa? I mean... I know that you were her 'Knight' or whatever, but didn't you let go, or feel safe, when you two were together?"

Squall shook his head, rinsing his mouth out. "No. I always had to be the protector. We never really... Fucked. I mean, we made love, I guess the best word for it is, but I couldn't just let go because I had to be the one to coddle her."

They went back to Nida's bed, slowly crawling under the covers. They both lay on their backs, their bodies pressed together. Nida reached over, turning off the lamp on the nightstand. He grunted, pulling the bottle of lubricant out from under his back. He then reached for Squall's hand, intertwining their fingers. "Squall, this will probably offend you, but your relationship with Rinoa reminded me of my parents."

Squall turned his head, his forehead pressed to Nida's temple. "That doesn't offend me. It's probably true."

"I mean, it's just so typically straight. The woman making the man dictate everything about sex. And, it's all very conservative, because I can't picture Rinoa jazzing it up by fucking you with a strap-on, or even playing dress-up games or anything. Kind of like, sex after the news, Friday night, in the missionary position."

"That's about it. I don't think Rinoa was very educated about sex. It's not like she was bad. It's just that she was... Inexperienced. But, so was I, so we suited each other just fine."

"Did she ever masturbate?" Nida asked.

Squall shrugged. "I don't think so. Even if she had, she never would have admitted it to me."

"Then, how did she know what she wanted, or liked?"

Squall kissed along Nida's cheekbone. "I don't think she really knew. I mean, she liked it when I fingered her, or stroked her clitoris, but most chicks like that anyway. I don't think she knew about her erogenous zones. Hell, I didn't even know I liked being spanked until you did it."

"Are you a secret leather slut?" Nida asked, a playful tone in his voice. He yawned. "Hey, look at that! I'm actually getting tired. Sex always makes you sleepy."

"Especially when it's good sex like that," Squall murmured. "Actually, I think I've always liked a little S & M, but it was more one of those secret things... Like, if I read about it, I would get aroused, but never really practiced it."

"It's an acquired taste. I know my last boyfriend hated it."

Squall raised an eyebrow. "What was he like? Why did you break up?"

"He died," Nida murmured. "It was a couple of years after the Neo-Sorceress War. He got mugged and shot one night in Balamb."

"Oh..." Squall trailed off. "I didn't know... I'm sorry I brought it up," he apologized, squeezing Nida's hand.

"It's okay," Nida said. "I mean, we're talking about your murdered girlfriend, so it's only fair."

"Did you love him?"

"I don't know... Maybe." Nida smiled thinly in the dark. "But.... I mean, I've never admitted this to anyone, but I guess it's fitting to admit to you, but even when I was with this guy who loved me, and treated me like gold, I thought about you."

"Really?" Squall asked.

"Yeah. You were this wet dream, this fantasy. I'm sure that Shin had fantasies, too."

"Was he a SeeD?"

"No. He was from Dollet. That's where I'm from. I met him when I went to visit my dad one time."

"How long ago did he die?"

"We'd only been together eight months when it happened. I've sort of been alone since then. Just kind of drifted around one nighters and relationships that lasted a month tops." Nida cocked his head, brushing Squall's lips with his own. "How do you feel about Botany?"

"Do you mean do I wish I had something with him?"

Nida nodded.

"No.... He was just a one night stand. That's all it was ever supposed to be, and that's all it will be."

"Do you think that's all we are?" Nida asked, slight hesitation in his voice.

"I hope not," Squall admitted. "I was actually thinking that while we were fucking." He paused. "I mean, I don't want it to be, but what if something happens with Seifer and Zell?"

Nida squeezed Squall's hand, rolling over so he was on his side. "We'll fight them."

"I have to give a public declaration of War tomorrow morning." Squall sighed. "How am I going to do this? It's Seifer and Zell! They're two of my best friends, and...." Squall blushed. "And, I've been having sexual dreams about them."

"I know. But, Seifer and Zell, deep down, will want you do help them. They're prisoners."

Squall nodded. "I know you're right. But, it still hurts."

Nida smiled, kissing Squall, feeling tired. "You know, you're much more forthcoming with personal information in the afterglow. I guess people should just screw you if they want you to open up."

"No, it's just you," Squall murmured, his words cut up by a yawn. "I never opened up to Rinoa after sex. I just fell asleep."

Nida rested his head on Squall's shoulder, his heart beating a little faster. "That means a lot to me, Squall."

The brunette ran his hands through Nida's hair. "I'm sorry I never noticed you."

"Doesn't matter," Nida whispered. "You're here now..."

Squall turned his head so his face was pressed into Nida's hair. He closed his eyes, and felt a dark sheet of sleep cover him as Nida's arms comforted him into blackness.

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