Chapter Twenty-Two

By Scarlet Fever

"This is it," Zell murmured. He and Seifer were laying on the cold ground of Odin's Chamber, curled around each other's bodies, waiting for the sword of Damocles to fall. Adel and Ultimecia had gone into dormancy, but both men knew it was only temporary. Zell shivered, pressing his body closer to Seifer's, feeling alien in the clothes had he'd chosen while Adel had controlled him. They were tight, and the vinyl was making his skin sweat and feel cold and clammy at the same time. The fur at the collar of Seifer's coat was also alien. Seifer never wore fur, and Zell could tell just by the feel that it was real. The fact that they were wearing clothes they never normally would have was just a slap in the face. They weren't themselves anymore. And, they would never be themselves again. Even if Ultimecia and Adel were defeated, Zell knew that he and Seifer would never be able to go back to normal. They wouldn't be able to hang around in front of the TV with Irvine. They wouldn't be able to go on a double date or something like that with Nida and Squall

Zell sighed. He was happy for Squall, if Squall was happy with Nida. From what they'd gathered from the consciousness of the Sorceresses, Squall and Nida were getting a lot closer. And, it was all Zell's fault. Maybe they wouldn't have been getting towards a possible relationship if Zell hadn't killed Rinoa. But, she was dead. Selphie was dead. He curled into a tighter ball as he thought of the small brunette. Her screams, the smell of her intestines being ripped apart. The pleading look in her jade eyes before they'd pooled with blood, before she'd sputtered, dying, her eyes unseeing.

Rinoa.... Zell cringed. He could see her death over and over again. It wouldn't leave him. The sound of her bones snapping was also staying with him, breaking his heart with every crack.

"Tonight could be our last night alive," Seifer whispered, his breath stirring the fur on his coat. He could also feel something vaguely familiar about the lining of his coat. It had appeared to be leather, but Seifer knew better. He was probably wearing human skin. He shuddered, shrugging out of the coat. "Once the morning comes, Ultimecia and Adel won't be resting."

"I know," Zell whispered. "I wish we could warn them..."

"I'm too weak to contact Nida telepathically again. But, I think they probably know."

"Either we're going to die tomorrow, or Squall will."

"There's no 'or' about it," Seifer pointed out darkly, shivering. "We'll die regardless, even before we see Squall."

"Do you feel strange?"

Seifer snorted. "That's a pretty stupid question to ask, Zell."

The smaller blonde sighed. "No, I didn't mean like that. I mean, with their power. Something feels... Off."

Seifer cocked his head. "I don't know. Their power is so mixed up with other power anyway, that it always feels turbulent." He frowned. "But, I do know what you mean. They're definitely plotting something."

"It's like they've separated their powers," Zell pointed out, rolling over so he could look in Seifer's troubled blue eyes. "But, why?" Zell cursed under his breath. "Fuck. I wish we could keep a higher consciousness when Adel and Ultimecia were controlling us. Then, we would know better."

Seifer frowned. "I don't need a higher consciousness to know that they're probably going to use it against Nida, to get him out of the way."

"What do you mean?" Zell asked. "You think that Ultimecia purposely separated a piece of her own power in order to use it as insurance, maybe putting it dormant in Nida's body?"

Seifer shook his head. "I don't think that is it at all. I don't sense any of Ultimecia's power missing. It's..." Seifer frowned. "Mother."

"Xerampelinae's power?" Zell asked. "What, it's gone?"

"I'm not sure," Seifer whispered, sitting up. "I sense it close, but it's not within us anymore."

"So, what does that have to do with Nida?" Zell asked, watching as Seifer rose to his feet, and began pacing with a thoughtful look on his face. "I mean, what do they care about him? It's Squall and Laguna that Adel and Ultimecia want revenge against."

"That's the whole point," Seifer muttered. "Nida's proved to be a problem for them, and if there's a budding relationship between them, so Nida would purposely attack them if they hurt Squall."

Zell cocked his head. "Remember how sick Nida looked when he was standing really close to us... After...what we did..." Zell's voice dropped several octaves. "When we butchered her?"

Seifer nodded. "You think that Adel and Ultimecia will give up the expendable power of Xerampelinae in order to harm Nida?"

Zell nodded. "They're strong now. They don't really need Xerampelinae's Sorcery anymore." He placed a hand on Seifer's arm. "This is never going to end..."

"Well, tomorrow, it will end, one way or another."

"I think once Adel and Ultimecia take us over again, we won't be coming back," Zell muttered, pressing himself to Seifer's side. "I never thought my life would end this way..."

Seifer smiled distantly. "I know... But, I'm not giving up yet. She'll save us."

Zell furrowed his brow. "What?"

"Never mind..." Seifer waved his hand. "Do you feel that?"

"Feel what?" Zell asked, utterly confused now. Seifer sounded a bit crazy. But, that was to be expected. After all they'd been through, it was amazing to Zell that they were as lucid as they were.


Zell sighed deeply, feeling tears stinging at his eyes. "Is it Adel and Ultimecia? I just... I want to be myself for a little while longer!"

"No, it's not them," Seifer murmured, squeezing Zell's bicep. "It's something else."

Zell cocked his head. Suddenly, he felt it. Distant and dark. "It almost feels like a monster, but there aren't any here anymore..."

Seifer sat on some steps. "It probably has something to do with Ultimecia's plans for Squall and Esthar."

"How could we let this happen?" Zell whispered. "Seifer... I'm partly to blame."

Seifer wrapped his arms around Zell's shoulders, and buried his face in the crook of Zell's neck. "No, don't say that..."

"But, it's true!" Zell exclaimed. "Adel just used what I already felt."

"How do you mean?" Seifer asked, perplexed.

"Because..." Zell sighed deeply. "Oh, god, I'm so ashamed. She used my bitter feelings towards Squall. My deep hatred of him."

"You hate Squall?" Seifer asked, his scarred brow knitting. "Why?"

Zell turned his head so that his forehead was pressed to Seifer's. "No, no... I don't hate him. But, I felt hatred towards him, deep down where I didn't even really know it existed."


"Because I was jealous!" Zell spat out. "I was jealous because he was so obviously getting closer to you, and it made me angry. And, Adel used it against me..." Zell reached up, touching the side of his face, where Squall's gunblade had cut him. "And, just thinking about it now, is making me angry again... Am I really that weak?"

Seifer gave Zell a look. "Why were you jealous?"

"I don't know!" Zell cried out. "I know it's not rational, but I still felt it. I mean, Squall's a really attractive guy, and you two have always had all this chemistry. I just sometimes feel... Left out."

"Zell..." Seifer whispered. "I love you. Not Squall." He smiled sadly. "I mean, even with all the horrible things that we've been doing, I love you. If I had wanted Squall, I could have had him. But, he's a rice queen."

Zell snorted. He looked into Seifer's eyes. "I know you love me, but I don't really feel that I deserve to feel it right now. We should be in Hell."

Seifer cocked his head, capturing Zell's mouth with his own. It was like he was giving his lover a goodbye kiss, and it felt like Zell was doing the same to him. Their possible last kiss. The sun had been up for a few hours. Before it hit its peak in the sky, both men knew that they would cease to exist, because once Adel and Ultimecia went to Esthar, there would be no turning back. The taller blonde's lips shook against Zell's. He really let himself taste Zell's mouth, wanting to remember it. Even if Ultimecia stole his mind, he knew he would never forget the feeling in his heart when his mouth was pressed to Zell's. It was the feeling of being human, being loved, accepted despite all human flaws. Seifer had felt it, even during his first kiss with Zell, all those years ago in the soccer field, when they'd both been drunk. And, that feeling had continued, even through the time when Ultimecia had controlled him the first time.

Zell had always been by his side, even when everyone else in the world wanted him dead. And, Zell was still there, breath mingling with his own, hands on his body. Zell had loved him when everyone else had hated him. And, Zell still loved him, even when he hated himself. As Seifer pushed his tongue gently past Zell's lips, tasting the familiar inside of Zell's mouth, he knew that they were both hated, that the nightmare he'd felt while a teenaged SeeD dropout had come full-circle, encompassed him all over again. And, now, it was taking Zell down, too. A tear trickled out of the corner of one of Seifer's closed eyes as Zell lovingly kissed him back.

The small blonde had been right. They didn't deserve what slivers of happiness they could find. Not after what happened to Selphie and Rinoa, and what would happen to Nida, Squall, Quistis, Laguna and everyone else in Esthar. The world was going to end, no matter which side they were on. If Squall and Esthar were victorious, which Seifer hoped, himself and Zell would die along with their controllers. And, if Seifer and Zell, the embodiments of Ultimecia and Adel, were the victors, the rest of the world would end under their iron fists.

Zell's hand stopped moving over the scarred portion of his face, and moved to touch Seifer. It felt nice to touch something, something familiar, warm, loved, loving. When Adel was in his body, he couldn't feel anything except her coldness, blocking him in his own body. Zell shook, trying to hold back tears as he thought of his mother. The only mother he'd known. Saffron Dincht. She was his real mother. Adel wasn't. And, he was thinking that he would never see her again. Did she know about what was going on? Squall had probably told her. Squall... Zell felt ashamed for what he felt about Squall deep inside. The other man had never been a threat to his relationship with Seifer, and now, Zell would never get to apologize. Instead, he would repay Squall's friendship by trying to kill him, by holding his father in a coma, by destroying Squall's possible growing affection for Nida Nomura.

Seifer used his gloved fingers to trace Zell's jaw, which was working under his touch. He remembered the happy feeling, the feeling of being alive that he'd experienced, when he and Zell had first moved in together. Like it would have lasted forever. Or, when they'd woken up from a sea of white after Time Compression, in the same soccer field where they'd shared their first kiss. And, this one could be their last.

Zell's whole countenance crumbled as he felt the familiar sting of dark Sorcery around him. Adel and Ultimecia were waking up, and Zell knew that they would stay that way. He found Seifer's hands, keeping his eyes pressed shut and his lips locked to his lover's. Zell internally begged to any sort of god, to any higher being, to fate, karma, any force, just begged, prayed to be left alone. Just prayed for Adel and Ultimecia's death, begged for Squall to succeed. "We should be dead..." Zell whispered. "We should be in Hell."

Seifer bit back a sob as he felt himself ebb away, into nothingness, Zell's lips the last thing he would feel before he drowned in Ultimecia's burning anger. "We're already there."

Squall stared up at the ceiling, his whole body tensing each time he looked at the clock on Nida's night table. With each passing second, they were getting closer to an official War. It would be the whole world against two people, and yet, Squall wasn't sure they would win. Nida was still sleeping, his head resting under Squall's chin. Squall hadn't woken up beside someone in a while. Not since Rinoa. And then, towards the end of their relationship, Squall and she had been sleeping in separate beds. Either because they'd been fighting, or because Squall had slept in his office in the Garden. He found that he greatly liked waking up beside Nida, but he wished that it could have been under happier, or less dangerous circumstances. He pressed his cheek into Nida's soft hair, sighing deeply. He had a terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach. As he kissed the crown of Nida's head, running his fingertips up and down Nida's spine, he wondered if Adel and Ultimecia had already planned something, if Squall would look out the window, staring straight into apocalypse.

Nida stirred at Squall's ministrations, slowly opening his eyes. It took him a second to realize that there was another man in bed with him, but he knew that it was Squall. Knew by the way he smelled, how his body felt. It felt tense. He titled his head so he could look at Squall, whose face was drawn, a concentrated look in his stormy eyes.

Squall noticed that Nida was awake, and tried to smile at him, but it was only a twitching of his lips. He looked at the clock again, his jaw clenching.

"What time did you plan your statement for?" Nida asked, rubbing his eyes.

"Two hours from now," Squall looked at the clock again. It was six in the morning. He and Nida hadn't gotten very much sleep. He knew that his declaration would be televised around the world, he knew that big projection screens had been set up all over Esthar. It gave him a slight case of stage fright. How did Laguna do this all the time? Probably because he was outgoing, and could talk through anything, even an assault by two horrible bitch Sorceresses.

Nida sat up. "Xu should have gotten people into shelters and stuff by now. I'll start the aerial defence just before your speech begins."

Squall sat up as well, slowly getting out of the warm bed. "I'm almost afraid to look outside."

"I think we would have been notified if an attack happened," Nida muttered dryly. "We'll do a briefing just before, too."

Squall smiled distantly, finding his discarded clothes on the floor.

"What are you smiling at?" Nida asked, a gentle smile gracing his angelic face as well. He bent over to get his clothes, which gave Squall chance to run his hand over Nida's smooth ass.

"Just this..." He smiled as Nida rose to full height again, meeting Squall's eyes. "Going about business, what we were trained to do, and not having it be an attack on our 'intimate' relations," Squall muttered, making sarcastic quotation marks with his fingers.

"Because it's not an attack," Nida said, confusion in his voice. "It's what has to be done, and has nothing to do with what we stick up each other's asses."

Squall's eyebrows raised, and a slight grin plastered itself on his perfect face. He cut the air with his hands. "Okay, must be serious."

"I take it you meant Rinoa."

"Why is it that she couldn't understand that I had duties in the Garden?" Squall asked wistfully, a regretful tone in his voice. "I mean, she fought with us against Ultimecia the first time."

"She wasn't born into this life. She wasn't trained since childhood to be a soldier. She couldn't possibly understand. And, just being the daughter of General Caraway wasn't going to make her understand. Some people just aren't meant to be in the army."

"What made you decide?" Squall asked, pulling on his pants.

"Because my first word was 'plane'. Flying was in my blood, and the Garden was what was going to get me closer to planes, and flying, and aerial technology."

"I don't know what my first word was," Squall muttered.

"Whatever?" Nida offered, laughing as Squall frowned.

"Very funny, Nomura," he said, biting at Nida's lips before he kissed him. Their lips gently worked against each other, a sweet, calm moment before the storm. Their own eye of the Hurricane. "I don't want to do this..." Squall whispered as Nida kissed his chin and cheeks.

"Well, once we defeat Ultimecia and Adel, Laguna will wake up, and you don't have to worry about being President anymore. And, I'm sure Quistis will let you take a well-deserved vacation," he said, walking to the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

Squall sat on the edge of the bed, thinking about a vacation. He and Rinoa had talked about going to Winhill, maybe to learn more about Raine's life. Rinoa had wanted to look at the flowers, and it would have been a quiet excursion from the Garden. This was before they'd hit rough times. Rinoa had gotten sick of Squall ignoring her, and Squall had gotten sick of Rinoa's desire to always be social. He frowned. Sometimes, in his mind, he villainized her, especially when he thought back to when she kissed Seifer, or arguments they'd had where she'd said hurtful things to him. But, it had been just as much his fault as it had been hers. It hadn't been all bad. She'd taught him to be more open. True, he wasn't as open as she was, but he'd learned. At least he could have a conversation with other people now. She'd also helped him in building his relationship with Laguna, and he would always love her for that.

And, the ironic thing was that she helped Squall where it concerned Nida. What he'd learned from his relationship with Rinoa is what brought Squall to this position; waking up beside Nida, feeling fairly romantically content. He really, really liked Nida. He was interesting, and it seemed, more to Squall's own tastes than Rinoa was. Nida was open, like she was, but not the same social butterfly. He also felt a little bit more like Nida's equal than he did with Rinoa. Not that Rinoa had been beneath him, or vice versa, but they were just from two different worlds, two different personal places. A slight blush came over Squall's face as his mind thought of the events of the previous night. He could still feel the remnants of his intercourse with Nida, and it was a feeling that pleased him. He was pretty inexperienced when it came to male/male relationships, but Nida didn't seem to mind. He was also inexperienced when it came to male/female relationships.

"Where are you?" Nida asked, snapping his fingers in front of Squall's face.

"Huh?" He raised his eyes to meet Nida's.

"I've been standing here for a minute or so, and you've just been staring off into space." He cocked his head. "Do you want to shower in here, or in your own room?"

Squall stood. "My room." He grabbed Nida's wrist. "Come with me."

"Just let me get my uniform," Nida pulled his arm out of Squall's grip, and pulled on a pair of pants, and followed the acting President of Esthar to his room. Once inside, Squall yanked the uniform out of Nida's hands, and stripped them both bare in seconds flat.

As Squall pushed Nida into the bathroom, the Asian man laughed, his dark eyes twinkling. "You certainly are forward, President Leonhart."

"Get in the shower," Squall commanded, turning the water on. As Nida turned, Squall slapped the other man's ass.

"Yes, sir." Nida gave Squall a saucy salute, and stepped under the water. He gasped when Squall pinned him to the tiled wall of the shower rather heavily. He grunted, looking at Squall through his now wet bangs as the other man thoroughly pinned him where he was, preventing Nida from much movement. He caught Squall's gaze, and saw the conflict there. Not about anything between them, but because of Seifer, Zell, Adel, Ultimecia, all of it. Nida leaned his head forward, brushing his lips against Squall's. The running water made their kiss slick. It was also shortened when Squall smirked against Nida's mouth, then pushed Nida's head back against the wall.

Squall looked at Nida from under hooded lids, reaching behind him for the shampoo bottle. Squall didn't really care about foreplay at the moment. He just wanted to forget about his duties to Esthar, wanted to forget about everything that was happening outside of the shower stall. He felt the warm spray of water run down his back as he lowered to his knees in front of Nida. He breathed over the head of Nida's cock, and the already half-erect member twitched to full hardness. There was a slight bit of hesitation in the back of Squall's mind, but he ignored it. He just wanted to think of something besides the world crumbling around him. And, he knew that a bit of his hesitation came from the fact that he'd never sucked another man's dick before. But, it's not like it was terribly difficult, and he knew what he liked, and what definitely not to do.

He pressed his palms to Nida's slick stomach, and licked across the head in a big, lavish stroke. He relished the feeling of Nida's stomach fluttering under his hands, and dug his fingers deeper into the Asian man's flesh, which elicited a small groan, and a roll of his hips. As Squall just licked and kissed the tip of Nida's cock, pressing his tongue into the small slit, he popped open the bottle of shampoo, and squeezed some of the thick liquid over his fingers. As Squall opened his mouth, taking just a bit of Nida's penis into it, he circled his fingers around the other man's rectum. Nida made a squeaking noise, and parted his legs further, giving Squall better access, which Squall showed his appreciation for by giving a long, hard suck to Nida's cock.

Nida pressed the back of his head against the wall, draping one of his legs over Squall's shoulder. He was glad that Squall was holding him up by the hips, because Nida probably would have fallen over and cracked his head open. Squall's mouth was burning hot, and he was doing rather explicit things with his tongue and throat muscles. When Squall moved his tongue in a circular motion, Nida bumped his head against the shower wall a few times. "Keep doing that," he whispered, wanting to give Squall some encouragement that he was doing a good job. Nida saw tiny black dots enter his vision as one of Squall's shampoo lubricated fingers gently pressed into his body.

Squall pulled his mouth off a little, so that just the head was in his oral cavity once more. He opened his eyes, looking up at Nida, whose eyes were closed, and whose lips were parted. Squall could hear the other man's gentle panting above the sound of the shower water, and it caused his own cock to harden. He worked his finger in Nida's ass, and pressed his tongue into Nida's urethra once more.

"Fuck," Nida cursed, rocking his hips against Squall's face. He gasped, another word coming out garbled and incoherent as Squall pushed a second finger into him. Squall then moved his hand to the part of Nida's penis that wasn't in his mouth, and began working up a gentle rhythm. He matched his fingers in the pumping, gently working them in Nida's body, deep, then shallow, then deep again. His fingertips kept brushing against Nida's prostate with a ghostly touch, and each time they did, Nida cried out, arching his back further and further.

Squall smiled around Nida's cock, and pushed a third finger in. He pulled his other hand away from Nida's dick long enough to get the shampoo bottle again. He squirted some more onto the hand that was working its way into Nida's body, and then moved a fourth finger in. Nida let out a long breath, and Squall could feel the Asian man's muscles relaxing against his fingers, like Nida knew exactly what Squall wanted to do. Squall began to wiggle his fingers within Nida's tight channel, which was a feat considering the muscles surrounding them. It caused said muscles to contract and quiver, and it felt very intimate and personal to Squall. When he slowly pushed his thumb into Nida's body, so that his whole hand was engulfed, he quickened the pace of his mouth. Nida was groaning, his hands clawing down the tiled walls as his body got a sensory overload of pleasure. Squall's hand slowly and gently pushed further into Nida's ass, until his thumb was pressed to the other man's prostate. Nida murmured in pleasure, his rectal muscles clamping down on Squall's hand. It caused Squall to moan around Nida's cock as well. He could feel Nida's body shivering all around him. He felt Nida's hand go into his wet hair, and he opened his mouth, letting Nida's penis slide as far in as it could without Squall gagging.

Nida whimpered when he felt Squall's hand go in further. The acting President was up past his wrist, and still pushing in. Squall's tongue was also dancing all over Nida's cock, zinging him with pleasure. Nida began thrusting his hips in rhythm with Squall's mouth, and he moaned gutturally when the tip of his penis brushed the back of Squall's throat. Squall's other hand was slowly stroking up and down Nida's thigh, gently grazing his scrotum. When the depth of Squall's hand was approaching the middle of his forearm into Nida's rectum, and when the hot, velvety cavern of Squall's mouth became too much pleasure to take, Nida let out a hoarse scream of pleasure, moaning like he'd never moaned before, putting professional whores to shame.

Squall couldn't help but gasp at the sensation of feeling Nida come, inside and out. The salty explosion in his mouth sort of caught the auburn-haired man off guard. The thick semen splattered on his tongue and teeth. The bitter taste didn't surprise Squall, because he'd tasted his own come before, either on Rinoa's or Nida's lips, or when he'd occasionally lick it off Rinoa's fingers, something she'd found gross, but Squall had secretly enjoyed. Squall contemplated the even more amazing feeling of Nida's rectal muscles shivering and contracting around his hand. The muscles were squeezing him almost painfully as he swallowed Nida's ejaculate. He pulled his mouth off Nida's cock, and looked up at the Asian's man's face, which was flushed and wet from the still pouring water.

Squall kissed Nida's inner thigh, rubbing his free hand up and down the other man's haunch as he very slowly began the process of pulling his hand out. He went at a snail's pace, continuing to kiss and nibble at the tender flesh of Nida's smooth thigh, hearing Nida's breath coming out broken and hitched. As he pulled his hand out, he also began to rise, his cock, which was still rock hard, brushing Nida's legs. When his thumb popped out, Nida's hand moved to the hardness that he felt jutting from Squall's body, and slowly began to jerk him off. The crown of Nida's head was still pressed into the wall, and his eyes were still closed. When Squall's entire hand finally came out of Nida's ass, the Asian man made a small noise that sounded like a whimper.

Nida's hand worked over Squall's cock at a hard, furious pace, which caused the scarred man to grunt. Squall noticed that Nida was slumping slightly, that his legs were shaky, so he pulled their bodies closer together, effectively pinning Nida between his own body and the wall. Squall caught Nida's lips with his own when he felt the familiar tightness that signalled an orgasm grip his body. He came into Nida's hand with a sigh, biting Nida's lips as his muscles shook with pleasant tremors under his skin. As the water washed the semen away, both men just leaned into each other, their legs shaking. Nida's arms wound around Squall's slender hips to steady his weight. When Squall nuzzled his face into the crook of Nida's neck, the pilot smiled distantly, kissing the tip of Squall's nose, his tongue flicking out to catch a drop of water.

Neither man said anything to the other, just letting the water wash away the sweat of their sex, and letting their breath return to normal. Squall closed his eyes, trying to imagine that he wouldn't have to leave the shower, wouldn't have to go in front of the whole world and declare that he was going to destroy two of his best friends. He just wished that Nida's arms could stay like this, loosely around his body with nothing but warm water coming between them. But, he knew a war would end up shattering this quiet moment.

Quistis and Xu looked down the futuristic streets of Esthar. The city was very ominous when there weren't the typical crowds bustling around. The people were slowly being moved into an underground shelter. Adel and Ultimecia hadn't shown their faces yet, but everyone could feel the darkness hanging in the air, like they were already there. It was frightening, and Quistis kept expecting to turn around and to be staring into Ultimecia's burning sulphur eyes, housed in Seifer's familiar face.

"There's Nida," Xu pointed out, making sure that her earpiece was in working order.

"How many people still have to be moved?" Nida asked, stopping in front of the two women.

"A lot. We only started about an hour ago. But, the ban on walking around the streets is on." Xu paused. "Can you feel that?"

Nida nodded darkly. "Yes." He closed his eyes, his jaw clenching. "Once I stepped outside the Palace, I could feel something. Besides the overhang in the city. I think I'm going to take the Ragnarok and check it out when I start the aerial patrol."

"When are you starting?" Quistis asked, handing him a communicator.

"Now..." He muttered. "I want to start before Squall gets on camera, in case Adel and Ultimecia try to make their move."

"Good plan," Xu said, narrowing her eyes. "Nida, you're glowing!"

He narrowed his eyes at her. "Huh?" He began the task of attaching the communicator to his uniform. He unbuttoned his jacket so he could run the wire under it.

Quistis chuckled. "Yeah. How inappropriate."

He gave them the finger, running the cord up his spine.

"Did you get laid?" Quistis asked, her voice light and playful. "Is Squall's ass as tight as the rest of him?"

He glared at her. "And, why would I tell you and your big fucking mouth?" Nida muttered, placing the earpiece over the curl of his ear.

Quistis's gloved hand fluttered to her elegant mouth. "Such a naughty mouth. Does Squall like it when you talk dirty to him?"

Nida flushed. "I hope Ultimecia kills you," he muttered.

Xu and Quistis exchanged a look, then laughed. It was a slightly teasing laugh, but with a hint of nervousness. "Oh, Nida," Xu murmured. "Our little boy is growing up, and kissing and fucking other little boys."

"You know, you could be a little more serious," Nida muttered, buttoning up his SeeD coat again. "We're about to go officially into War."

"Yeah, yeah..." Quistis waved her hand. Her face became serious. "You'll be careful, right? What, with your empathy and all..."

"I'm not an invalid!" He exclaimed. "I'll be fine." He pointed to his earpiece. "If anything goes wrong, I can contact you guys." He started walking towards the Airstation. "Are we going to be patched into Squall?"

"Not directly," Xu called out. "Why on earth would you want to be?"

"Fuck you..." Nida muttered, giving her the finger before disappearing around the corner.

"We shouldn't tease him," Quistis muttered.

"Oh, come on!" Xu exclaimed, pulling out a pair of binoculars. "Do you remember how mercilessly he teased us when we first started going out?"

Quistis smiled distantly. "Yeah, I do.... Seems like a lifetime ago."

Xu shook her head, watching the distance. "It was a lifetime ago." She reached out her free hand to touch Quistis, who smiled sadly at her.

"Do you think our world will end today?"

"As far as we know it... Yes." Xu looked away from her binoculars, a sad look in her dark brown eyes. "Even if we win, our current world will end."

As Squall came out onto the podium, in front of a multitude of microphones, he saw the Ragnarok leaving the Esthar Airstation. He said a silent prayer to no higher being in particular that everything would be okay, and that he would do okay with this speech. He smiled slightly, thinking back to when he had to make a speech to the entire Garden, and Nida had scolded him because he'd rambled and given useless information. It was so long ago. They'd been children. And, that had only been a speech to his school. This was the world. How did Laguna do this all the time? He sat behind all the microphones, his little cards in front of them. Squall remembered Laguna saying to him once that all prepared speeches turned out crummy, so it was best to wing it.

Squall's stomach turned when he saw his image popping up on various monitors all over the city. From his podium, he could look across the vast technological masterpiece that was Esthar. His own face looked dead, impassive. And, Squall swore it would stay that way. He couldn't let his conflict over this show. He saw his signal to begin, and took a deep breath, leaning into the microphones.

"Attention, citizens of Esthar, as well as residents of other countries around the world, including Galbadia, Balamb, Trabia, Dollet and Centra. This is Squall Leonhart, acting President of Esthar. As you know, my father, the President of Esthar, Laguna Loire, has fallen in a coma. The reason for this is the Sorceresses Adel and Ultimecia. They have resurrected, and are threatening to take over Esthar. And, they are currently possessing the bodies of Seifer Almasy and Zell Dincht, former students of Balamb Garden...."

Nida sighed as he heard Squall's speech through his earpiece.

Today, I'm officially declaring war against Adel and Ultimecia, who have been hiding in the Centra Ruins. We expect them to attack Esthar shortly. There are designated underground shelters in the city. Please cooperate with officials to ensure your own safety, and the safety of your family...

As Nida flew over the desert, something began to gnaw at him. He turned the Ragnarok around, heading towards the source of magic that was causing his stomach to do flip-flops. He looked out the windshield, seeing nothing on the barren Esthar plains. And, out of that nothingness came some sort of energy. Nida cried out in agonizing pain, his hands clenched so tight around the steering mechanism of the Ragnarok that it squeaked under his palms. In the fog of his pain, he began the landing process of the Dragon Ship, knowing that if he didn't land her, he was going to crash. When the Ragnarok was safely on the ground, Nida slowly let out his breath.

Was it Adel and Ultimecia? It sure felt like them. And, as quickly as the power had come over him, it vanished, leaving the Asian man confused and shaking. He looked out the window again, and saw nothing. Then, he saw it. A dark spec on the horizon. A collapsed body. He pulled out a pair of binoculars. The form wasn't moving, and he saw the tattered Esthar uniform. "It could be a trap," he whispered. Nida mentally checked his junctions as he turned on his communicator.

"Nida here," he said.

"What's going on, ya know?"

"Raijin?" Nida cocked his head. "Where's Xu?"

"Patrolling the city, same as me. What's going on?"

Nida narrowed his eyes. "I'm in the Esthar Plains right now. I was hit with a surge of powerful magic, and had to land the Ragnarok, or I would have crashed her. And, the magic disappeared quickly. Now, I'm looking at what could be an Esthar Soldier. Were there any people sent out here?"

"I'll have to check. Do you think that it could be a trap?"

"That's why I'm not out there," Nida stated. "How's Squall doing?"

"He's still addressing. Right now, he's just talking about the other countries building a perimeter around the Centra Ruins. So, what are you going to do?"

"I've got some powerful spells Junctioned, as well as Diablos, so I should be okay just to check."

"What if Adel and Ultimecia show up?"

Nida paused. "I have a hand held trigger for the homing beacon of the Ragnarok. I'll just set it off if I get into trouble."

"Okay. Nida, be careful. We don't need someone else dying."

"I will." He cut the communication. "Okay, now or never..." He looked out the window again, and saw slight movement. The jerky movements of the body suggested that they were severely injured. He pulled out his sickles, and stepped outside the Ragnarok. He could feel the wind picking up, and it was creating dirt and dust to be brought into the air. It made the environment feel gritty about him. He gripped the hilts of his weapons tighter as he made his way towards the collapsed form.

"This is Captain Nida Nomura of SeeD. Are you injured?" He called.

"Captain... Nomura...?" The voice called, shaky and weak. "I've been hurt. Adel and Ultimecia... They.... They're going to Esthar right now...."

"What?!" Nida's eyebrows shot up. He reached up the press the communication button on his earpiece. As his hand hovered, Nida felt his stomach curling within his body. The magic was back. Shit, it had been a trap, and he'd walked right into it. It became so bad that he collapsed to his knees, clutching his stomach. He looked up as the wind grew stronger, blowing dirty air all around him. The Esthar Soldier stood, walking easily towards Nida. But, there was something off. The head was bobbing around unnaturally. The Soldier stopped right before Nida's crouched form, and reached its hands up, removing the dirty and scuffed helmet.

Nida gasped, his breath leaving his body in one great gush. He stared, his own doe brown eyes wide with shock, into a pair of similar brown eyes in almond, Asian sockets. He shook his head, looking to see the vertebrae poking through the skin of her neck. Over the wind, Nida could hear the crunching and grinding of the bones, protruding and pressing, rubbing against each other in a totally unnatural manner. He shook his head slightly, feeling like he was going to vomit up all his internal organs from the surge of magical energy in the air.

"No...." Nida shook his head. "How...?"

He didn't get a response from Rinoa, who was standing in front of him, her hands on her hips. She just stared at him with blank eyes, a small smile on her heart-shaped mouth.

"Yes," she whispered in a voice that wasn't her own. "We're all alone here, Kaptain Nomura."

Nida shook his head again, feeling weaker and weaker with each passing second that Rinoa stood in front of him. It wasn't Rinoa's voice that was coming out her lips, but rather a harsh, accented one that he knew wasn't Adel. It had the same tone as Ultimecia, but it wasn't her voice, either. Nida's mouth opened, and he thought bile would start to pour out, but only a single word passed between his lips.


Irvine sighed, looking at the sky. He could see storm clouds rolling in. Trabia was always beautiful to watch when there was going to be snow. The clouds were like a sea.

"What's wrong?"

He turned to see Ellone standing behind him. "Oh, hi, Elle."

"You still depressed?"

"Of course." He tried to smile. "I think I will be for a long time."

Ellone patted his arm. "You should be proud of yourself for taking such good care of Edea. I'm sure both Squall and Uncle Laguna really appreciate it."

He smiled gently at her. "Thanks, Elle."

She cocked her head, looking at the clouds. Suddenly, her face fell. "What....?"

Irvine noticed the distress in Ellone's chocolate coloured eyes. "Ellone? What is it?"

"Rinoa...?" She frowned. "This doesn't make any sense. I'm feeling... Rinoa." Ellone's hand fluttered to her mouth. "Oh, no!"

"What?" Irvine asked.

Ellone opened her mouth to answer, but couldn't, for a loud, thundering roar stole her voice from her. She jumped in fright, looking towards the source of the noise. Coming over the hill that lead to the desolate vastness of the Trabia Snowfields, came a surge of large, shadowed forms, one after another, as far as the eye could see. Irvine narrowed his eyes. "What is that?!"

"Oh, Hyne!!" Ellone cried out. "No!"

He gasped when a flash of red came out of the shadows, until it looked like a sea of scaly blood. Wave after wave of Ruby Dragon was coming towards them, angry and howling.

"This is bad...." Ellone whispered.

Irvine grabbed Ellone's wrist, and turned to run back towards the Trabia Garden. But, he stopped when he was met with another wall of Dragons. "We're completely surrounded."

"That's pretty obvious," Ellone whispered, her voice shaking. "What now?"

Irvine just shook his head. He had no idea what to do. And, if he didn't think of something soon, he and Ellone would die. And, quickly.

Squall paused his words, getting distracted by his own image looking back at him, larger than life. It was strange to look at one's face when it was as large as the front of a building. He could also see Quistis and Xu, as well as Raijin and Fujin, circling the perimeter of the city. He didn't know if he liked the idea of a now pregnant Fujin to be involved in any altercations, but he also knew that if Fujin wanted to be there, nobody could stop her. A distant part of Squall's mind was also constantly thinking about Nida. And, as he did, he felt a deadly, cold shiver passing up and down his spine. Something was wrong.

"And, in conclusion, I would just like to ask that everyone be patient with us....." Squall trailed off when the skies suddenly clouded over, and a cold wind passed through the still city. He saw Quistis and Xu looking around wildly, and then heard the crackle of some distant electricity. It sounded sort of like a lightning storm, but far deadlier, more alien. Squall opened his mouth to speak again, but gasped when a huge crack of lightning appeared between two buildings, nearly hitting Quistis and Xu. Both women pulled out their weapons. It seemed to rip a hole in the fabric of the city's environment, and monsters began to crawl out.

"Shit..." Squall whispered, but it echoed because of the microphones. It was the Sorceresses that Squall and his party had fought during Time Compression, just before reaching Ultimecia's castle. It's like time was spilling out of the hole created. And, they didn't know how to stitch it up. "Ultimecia!" Squall cried, pulling out the Lionheart.

"You rang?" Came the voice from over Squall's shoulder. He spun on his heel, and he was staring at Seifer and Zell, who were smiling wrathfully at him. But, he was staring into Adel and Ultimecia's eyes, totally undiluted. It was truly them. Nothing of Seifer and Zell's minds was standing before him now. It was totally the two Sorceresses. It was a rather large platform that they were all on, but to Squall, it felt painfully small. And, he also knew he was on his own. The others had their hands full, and Nida wasn't even in the city. God knows what was happening to him.

"Ready to die, whore?" Adel asked. "You and your father will cease to exist, just as it should be, just as it should have always been."

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