"Scars remind us that the past was real …"

-William Shakespeare


Smother him. The conscious compelled him. So many fine pillows of dove feathers. Let him die by one. It will take mere moments. His lungs will reach, grope and find nothingness. They will cripple. His blood will go unfurnished. His heart will stop. Smother him. A visual came with the cruel urges. His father, a mountain of a man, sprawled onto his bed, limbs twisted, face contorted, asphyxiated. It would be one thing taken care of. He would never return to this desolate manor where the servants were ghosts, shadows stalking the walls. Where the only living being was one of cold blood and slowly inching to his demise. Do it.

Two pairs of cold emerald eyes stared at him from across the bed. A witness. Goddamn. Short wheezes tore his attention to the carcass that lay, begging for the sweet release of death, on the bed, covered in silken sheets. Shut up. Save your breath. "Get … get … get …" Just die. "Get me … a glass of water." Mr. Almasy heaved breathlessly, his pale hand grasped at thin air. Cain observed the sickly skin, Albino white with the blue veins protruding like snaking tubes. Drop. Drop fucking dead.

Seifer stared at his younger sibling, expecting him to wait on his father's irritating needs. Cain glared back but succumbed. He scratched his chair back and went quickly to the private bathroom where he filled a glass of water from the golden tap and marched back into the bedroom. He pushed the water into the dying man's hands and sat back down.

It was unnerving. Waiting for him to die. Waiting for the remains of his life to be extinguished. A task only time could do. No. Wrong. They could do it right now.

"Ap …" He paused and took in a rattling breath before going on in a soft whisper, "Apparently, Rinoa Heartilly's disappeared." His voice extenuated in the frailest of tones that fueled the brothers desire to grant their old man death. Cain flinched at her name. There was a laugh. Or an attempt at a laugh, just air passing through the throat in quick staccato successions, "Ha … have you heard?"

"Yes, father, we've heard." Seifer snapped ruthlessly, his arms crossed, his eyes to the ceiling. Croak already, you old bastard. "But frankly, it's of no importance to you at this moment so I don't see why you're exhausting yourself by bringing it up." Die quickly, die quietly. Now go.

"Oh, but it is of importance, my dearest son." Mr. Almasy wheezed tiredly and managed a fake smile, "She's … DeGracia's daughter, you know?" There was a shocking quiet and the old man murmured on faintly, "DeGracia … Caraway, same people, you know? Yes, Rinoa Heartilly has family in high places. She's a bit like you two, you know – living off her old man's back." There was a short break where Almasy coughed and then goaded on, "You know, it's quite pointless for you two to be sitting on either side of me waiting for my death that I know you yearn for. It's no use pretending to care, boys, my will has already been written and there are to be no last minute changes. Your persuasion techniques are pitiful and in vain."

The lie was forced through Seifer's clenched jaw, "We're not pretending, father."

Mr. Almasy continued in a rasp, ignoring his son's attempt to blanket the truth, "You should, instead, be spending time doing what I'm sure you do best. The sport, the hunt … wooing young ladies, sweeping them off their feet? If I were either of you, I would be doing some … how do the street-crawlers call it? 'Some serious ass-kissing' to the fine creature named Rinoa. After you find her, of course."

Seifer raised an eyebrow while all his brother could do was balk again, "And why would we do that, father?" If the bastard wants to talk, then let him talk and maybe we'll finish this before tomorrow.

Almasy smiled weakly, almost heinously to his two sons and went on feebly, "Unlike me, James Caraway seems to actually … care about his own flesh and blood. Since he is an old … trustworthy friend … I have delegated all my possessions to his account. And in turn, these billions of dollars will be passed down to his daughter. Funny a world, isn't it?"

A wild torrent of shock kicked both Cain and Seifer in the gut but it was the older brother who reacted with his violent nature, "FUCK!" He gnashed his teeth and threw over his chair, "FUCK YOU, OLD MAN, FUCK YOU!" He spat disgustedly and looked down upon his father, consumed in his rage, "GODDAMNIT!" In his fury he grabbed the framed photograph of his mother that rested on the nightstand and threw it to the floor where it exploded in fireworks of glass and meshed oak wood. "I'll see you in Hell!" He stormed out of the room, disregarding the protests from his younger brother.

IF ONLY IT wasn't a game. This tease, this faulted jealousy, this distraction from the greater issue. Lovers' spats are so easily solved by romantic amends, dinner and lovemaking. Squall knew this was not to be his way out. He knew this was a mere ploy, lighthearted playtime to gracelessly dance around the wound. The wound. He saw it, bubbling with thick, burgundy blood, infected and growing wider with every glance she stole of the young girl on the doctor's examination table.

Her stab at his envy, merely banter. True – he was afraid of Lark. Of his probable past with her, his big words, his name tag, his uniform, his posture, his fervent examinations of Rinoa's shapely figure. Though he fumed at all this, Lark was not a threat to him. An inconvenience, an unfair juxtaposition, but not a menace. What he was afraid of is how much happier Rinoa would be if she hadn't met Squall Leonhart and what would ensue if she realized this.

Arianna sat, listening attentively to the doctor's quiet, sympathetic explanation with idolatry dancing in her eyes. And why not? If she were to have a role model, it sure as hell shouldn't have to be Squall. Let it be someone with know-how, with dignity, with class. Somewhere deep inside of him, he knew she was going to be a catalyst to the next sequence of yells and screams that would pass within his already turbulent love affair.

And he was right.

IT PROVOKED AN overwhelming pleasing sensation. Like forcing your nail at the base of a mosquito bite and slowly picking and scratching it until it bled. Like looking down on a trafficked street from a 50 floor-high building and having an undeniable compulsion to jump. Like a rope tightly fitted on a tired neck and the brusque kicking away of a chair. Like a sharp razor blade tickling the delicate skin of a wrist.

So she did it again. Her teeth sunk into and under her nail, feeling the skin peel off with ease, her thumb was stripped bare and bleeding. Even blood tasted like sweet strawberries picked fresh from the fields of despair. She felt justified, dignified, mortified. She repeated the process until all her fingers were wet, dripping, pruned. It only felt like she had taken a warm bath. She was beyond pain.

Quistis closed her eyes, those terrified, pale eyes. Don't breathe. A sad attempt at death. A coward's try – knowing nothing will work anyway. Somewhere in the vastness of skyscrapers and asphalt, a murderer was leaving her the last fifteen minutes of fame. And in fifteen minutes, Quistis Trepe would be famous.

But how?

In a crowded subway station. Jumping onto the tracks, looking up to the light before the final impact. Or in the middle of a public park. Couples with their babies in their strollers when the peace is shattered with a gun shot, horrified screams accompany the blood like a soft flute playing in the distance while a pianosteals through a concerto.

A deafening bang.

And then there he was. A knight in crimson-tainted armor. Broken sword and all, storming into her home like an animal. He bellowed his accusations and threats, " … knocking for five minutes straight …", " … wallow in your fucking self-pity, you dumb bitch …", "… are you fucking daft, pick yourself up off the fucking floor …". The front door was nearly unhinged where he had pounded it open.

The sharp, emerald gleams shook her. Or was that his iron-grip on her shoulders. No matter. Her entire being was convulsing, twitching in a neurotic fit of nerves, "Wake the fuck up, Trepe, I leave you for how long and you jump into this pile of shit, knee-deep? What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Go back to Heartilly, you piece of shit!" She managed to balk out. Quistis hid her face in her crumpled hands.

He was sitting on her couch now, next to her, making himself quite at home. He searched the inside of a jacket for a cigarette which he found and lit. "Making quite a scene out of yourself, aren't you? God, you make me sick. You go after Heartilly without the right tools, Quisty, you're bound to get bitten in the ass."

"I had the right tools; some asshole fucked it up for me!" A shrill indictment spurred in her throat but her panicked eyes were soothed with his hand on her cheek.

"Baby, I did nothing to set you back. It's Squall."

The name seemed foreign to her in this moment of disillusionment. It spawned certain hatred, certain … sensuality that had never occurred to her before. What had been the plan? Focus on the plan. Focus on what was, what is. Not what will be. But it was so difficult.

His grave, enrapturing voice edged on carefully, "I would never work against you, I just wanted to give you time to realize how fruitless this chase is going to be if you take it too fast … you know about taking things too fast, don't you, sweetheart?" She nodded fearfully like a child, "You understand now … why we can't kill Heartilly, yet?"

There was a lie there, somewhere. Even she knew that. But she let him continue with his syrupy, thick whispers, "You understand now … how I've got no interest in her." His lips brushed against her knuckles, "You're the one I want. I love you, understand?" He leaned further and kissed her collarbone.

Everything he was saying. Everything was lies. But the truth was only for people who could never be happy. And she would be happy. She was meant to be happy. A lie was an opera. A lie was her life. She could bear these last few. They tasted so good. She felt them on his lips when he embraced her mouth softly.

She could feel him smirk underneath this disguise.

Like taking candy from a baby.

RINOA CLOSED THE bedroom door softly behind her and looked to the cumbersome silhouette sprawled on the couch. She threw the words at him, "She's sleeping now."

"Good for her."

Her keys in her right hand, she resisted the urge to throw them. To hurl them at the big, fat target that was beckoning to be hit – Squall's inflated head. He didn't even look handsome anymore. Well, she was trying to convince herself this but she wasn't doing a very good job of it. In fact, if there was an apex to his attractive demeanor, it would be this. It was always this way when she needed to be firm, strong, determined. This way it would hurt more when he dealt the coup de grace.

"Squall-" Her voice faltered. Perhaps it was because he interrupted.

"No, Rinoa."

"What?" She lashed out incredulously, trying to keep her voice down.

"I said no, we can't keep your fucking pet." She saw a glint of sapphire in the two holes where his eyes were supposed to be, "No, we can't careen her around the fucking city like we owe her something. No, we can't risk our lives by keeping this big, black target with us. No. We're going to drop her off at the police station tomorrow morning and act like we found her in the fucking street, not in the middle of a bloodbath."

He was faceless, soulless, and nameless and it didn't matter if he died. She told him this. He snickered. "You know what, Squall Leonhart, go royally fuck yourself! You're in my apartment right now and I'm going to do whatever the hell I want … don't act like you matter, don't act like …"

"You're pissed off now?"

"Pissed … pissed … pissed off!" She screamed through clenched teeth.

"What're you going to do? Cry? Scream?" He got up off the couch and stalked up to her, "You're a damned healthy idiot if you think we can take care of the kid and save our asses on top of that. I'm sorry, Rinoa but-"

"Oh, like your apologies are worth something. Like they magically bring my baby back to life, like they take away the pain I had to go through, like they make you a better person – do they put your spirit at rest, Squall? Because they sure as fuck don't do the same for mine!"

"You! You! YOU!" It had escalated through to yells, nothing mattered anymore. They had created a universe of two where only they existed, where only they felt. And all they felt was misery, "Why the fuck is it always about you, Rinoa?"

"Because I'm the center of my own fucking story!"

"And maybe that's your fucking problem!" He retorted harshly.

"You never let me have Arielle – give me at least this!" Daggers. Each one of them tore at his body. She had deadly aim when she wanted to.

"Oh, so you had even named it!" He had ammunition too.

It. Like a repulsive creature. "Yes … I had even named her." Rinoa pressed scathingly, "I mean, your mother named you and I don't even know if you're alive! She was alive, Squall, she was very much alive. And she still would be if only. If only. On a scale of one to ten, how much do you want me to need you?"

Squall glared at her, his lips trembling but incapable of forming words. She answered for him, "What's that? Did you just say twelve? Well right now, let's pretend I need you to tell me everything will be alight. That Arianna will be alright. That my entire life wasn't a waste of everyone's time. Just … fucking … pretend."

"No. Let's not pretend anymore. Let's not fuck this up a second time." There was no need for the words to be shouted. Even when whispered, they did enough.

She looked up at him, defeated, "Fine. I need you to tell me that this is okay. I need you to tell me that she can be safe. With us."

He remained silent, avoided her eyes until he finally walked away from her altogether.

IRVINE PARKED THE car in a no-parking zone, entirely frustrated with Deling's system of avenues and roads eternally flowing one way. Ellone had been so nervous she stumbled over the directions, often leading them to the wrong place, "Don't you know where your own fucking brother lives?"

"Stop yelling, you're making it worse! I'm sure everything's fine!" She had stuttered in a vain attempt to quiet his violent shakes of rage.

As soon as he spotted the front doors of the building, Irvine thundered into the elevator and barely waiting for Ellone to catch up. "What floor?" He barked.

She obediently pressed the corresponding button but rancorously snarled, "You know, this is part of the reason we broke up." He glared at her as if to say the comment was inappropriate and not belonging to the moment but she just stared back spitefully, "You're the biggest thorn in my ass when it comes to your sister-"

"Pretend you care!"

"I do. But she is not my reason for life." The answer was curt, hollow, almost an echo from a phantom's breath.

"God no, I never said she was. If anything, she's a reason for death. She's a reason why immortality should remain a figment of our imaginations, the power of a God. But this entire city hangs on the last thread. The same one she's holding onto. If I lose my sister, I won't even have a home anymore."

"Have a flare for the dramatic?" Ellone snapped with the last remaining willpower she had to put up this debate.

"Yes. But this is what this entire ordeal is, no? A big fucking drama."

FINALLY, THE LAST breath. Gone. He had gone silently. Cain sat, unmoving from his position, trying to find the immense relief he felt. Finally. Finally. He almost laughed, if only he had the nerve, if only his father had not ravaged so much chaos with his goddamn 'passing away'.

There was so much work to do.

TIME HAS SUCH a way of designing intricate events so that they collide into a fiery display of chaos. "If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause most damage will be the one to go wrong. Corollary: If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then." The law of Murphy. How unfortunate that nature has a penchant for those kinds of laws.

How unfortunate, indeed. Why the tears, Rinoa? What were you expecting him to do? Take you in his arms and whisper sweet promises into your ear? She answered her own question dryly, Yes, actually – that was exactly what I was expecting after last night. Poor, poor, pathetic creature.

Ironically, it is what he had asked her as he left the apartment, "What the fuck are you expecting me to do?" He had slung his leather jacket over one shoulder and slammed the door behind him. Fine, let him be that way. I don't need him. I don't need him. I don't. I even told him so myself.

HE GOT TO the sidewalk before revising his move. What the fuck is she expecting me to do? He was screaming inside, there was nothing but a clamor rattling on and on like noise pollution. Squall wanted to tear out his mind, his conscious, everything that incited thought – that provoked emotion. He wanted to scream at the top of his lungs, "What the fuck do you want from me?"

But he knew it was a stupid question to ask. She wanted a child. She wanted the girl. Let her have the fucking kid, Leonhart! Just let her! No! Doesn't she understand? Doesn't she understand the complexity of having that particular brat with them? Her brother had been murdered – most possibly Tsang had meant to kill her too – the same Tsang that wants to kill her. Fucking logic, hello?

Logic. Since when was logic part of Rinoa Heartilly vocabulary? And she had completely obliterated the word from his dictionary as well. She thinks she can take up a kid just like you buy fucking furniture – with warranty and some assembly required! Pay in two easy installements – childhood and teenagehood and it's not like it matters because all moments with them are cute and adorable! Bull … shit …

And what do you think you're doing here? Thinking of leaving her? Honestly thinking of hailing a cab and going back home? This is home, you fucking loser. Face it; you won't have it your own way. You're going to go back into that apartment and tell her you need her like the fucking air you're breathing, you're going to go back in there and tell her that she can have whatever she freakin' wants because she's got you by the fucking balls anyway – tell her you don't even care if she needs you anymore because you're a big, fat, fucking baby and you'll surgically attach yourself to her arm if you have to just so you can be wherever she is all the time. Fuck.

SHE BARELY HAD the time to wipe the tears from her eyes and regain her composure, "What? Just realized you need to get laid tonight?" Her fingers tightened against the set of keys that she had never found the nerve to let go of.

"Yeah – I had forgotten that prostitutes don't take checks." He bit back, seething. This time, she didn't resist any urges. The car keys came flying at his head and narrowly missed, clanging on the door behind him. "You're fucking crazy, you know that?" He picked up the set of keys and looked around, "Absolute, fucking nut job." Narrowing on his target, he flicked the set of keys at a vase – hitting and breaking.

She cringed at the mess her apartment was becoming. He went on, "See, Rinoa? I go for the harmless things … why? Because I know I can hit."

"Go fuck yourself and the horse you rode on." She snapped back, crossing her arms in resignation, "So you have aim, I've got charm – we've all got our God given talents."

"Charm? Charm!" Squall exclaimed haughtily, "Yes, that must be what it is … charm. And here I was thinking it was all my insatiable male nature to screw everything that moves! Thank you for educating me further, now I don't feel so cheap anymore." He smiled and stood there, open armed, "Talk about taking a load off of my shoulders, thanks babe!"

"You know what, Squall Leonhart .. .I …" She cut herself short and then finally seethed, "Why did you come back? Quit it with your half-hearted jokes that are meant to sting but really don't. What did you come back for?" There was a certain smugness to her questions. So she knew. He was expecting that. She may be illogical, but not completely thick-headed.

"I came to tell you that you are the biggest idiot on this planet earth and that you live in a world of mesmerizing fantasies that you know will never be! You're stuck in delusions, if you think we're making it out of this alive, let me tell you that you're wrong. And if I die – it will all be your fault because of all the odds you set up against our survival. And I will haunt you, whether you're dead or alive - I'll make you miserable for the rest of eternity." He paused to look at her crumbling willpower.

Squall approached her cautiously and awkwardly wrapped his arms around her waist, "And you know what's stupid? Everything will be ok. She'll be safe. With us."