Angels' Tread

Angels' Tread

Disclaimer: If the characters were mine -- I'd know better than t' claim them! FFVIII, and all its messed up population, is the property of Square. Esse makes no money -- at all. So I guess the question is, is Square liable for Esse's psychiatric bills?

Notes: I never thought I'd do this. There really wasn't a follow up to Angels' Whispers planned. Yes, I'd discussed the five possible outcomes with a few friends, but I did not think they merited a story (the outcomes, that is, not my friends ^^;; please put down the squishy 'matos!). Then this bugger bit me in a rather impolite place. Familiarity with Angels' Whispers is prolly needed if you want to understand this blob of gook. More notes, of a sort, are at the bottom.

Warnings: Eh, language. A bit of violence. Ficcie includes the always cherished IrvinexSquall pairing. It's disjointed. It *makes*no*sense!* Plot is for those wimpy people who read for the joy of reading. Esse doesn't believe in it. "Plot? Esse don't need no stinkin' plot!"

Extra Special Warning: According to Microsoft Word, anyone who reads at a 4.3 grade level will be able t' breeze through this maze. ::sighs:: If that ain't humblin', I don't know what is If you want to read the *properly* formatted version of this story, please go here.

and as always
"talking" ~thinking~ *emphasis*

I'm falling, and there's nothing I can do. Always falling, 'cause I can't hit ground; because I haven't started falling yet -- won't begin falling for decades, centuries -- can't begin falling till I've hit the ground.

"Love you Mam," Deluge whispers, while Certyx laughs her insane little giggle, and Adel watches, always watches, ever closer to complete dissolution. The others watch as well; are they as sick of this loop as me? Over and over and, please Hyne, we never asked to be immortal!

"Hate you Mam," Deluge confesses, her presence a warmth by my side. And darling, my small, bright ray of joy, I hate you too.

The spinning increases.

And we touch.

"Rinoa, what do you want me to do? You come running back home after murdering the Commander of Balamb Garden, and you expect me to make everything better?" He's aged; odd, how I'd not noticed that before. He looks tired, more so even than when Mom died. I've never before thought of him as old. "You've refused to acknowledge me for years. Did it never occur to you that I gave up all hope on my daughter as well? She's dead to me, Rinoa, and I have no idea who you are."

I glare at him from across the room; who'd have thought that man would ever develop a backbone? He's the top-ranking general in Galbadia -- and he has the nerve to tell me there's nothing he can do? It's my life *dammit* and I'm not going to let it be taken away that easily.

"I'm sorry to have bothered you then, Sir. I'd believed you'd feel some sort of familial obligation" Yes, I can feel the tears gathering at the corners of my eyes; that should work. Daren't let them fall, or he'll know the game I'm playing. "At least for Mom's sake"

His face is gray, that unhealthy pallor of the elderly when they've exerted themselves past endurance. He looks behind be, where Watts and Zone are standing. Does he think to influence my men? It's laughable; I've bespelled their loyalty to me -- there's nothing either one of them can do that I haven't previously instructed them at.

But something's bothering me, like a gnat flying at the obscure edges of my vision; a flicker of here-not here. I can't read him. Not at all. And that's not right. Everything's open to me, *everything* except one care-worn old man who's shaking his head, and I swear I see regret in his gaze before I feel arms grabbing me from behind.

"What's the meaning of this?" I fight, struggle, yell at them to release me, but my faithless retainers refuse to lighten their grip. What do they think they're doing? ~Restrain a sorceress, will you?~ I gather up my power, and it's burning in its coldness, and ebon in its brilliance, and it slips through the fingers of my mind like so much eau-de-vie squandered upon a parched alkaline waste.

"Rinoa" And yes, it is regret that fills his eyes and drenches his halting voice. "It's for her sake I do this. Julia's daughter deserves a better death than the one the Gardens plan." He walks forward, a shambling, shameful progress for a man who once marched commandingly down the thoroughfares of Deling. "Always believe," he tells me, while I writhe in my captors' arms and deny the reality of the scene before me, "that I love you."

It's warm. I never would have expected that. A glorious blaze that transfixes me, and steals my breath away. He twists, and I not so much hear as feel the small snap as the spike breaks away from the handle.

Daddy loves me. Taught me this trick himself, and it makes me feel all shivery inside that he chose to use it now. So warm, so sheltered, and I smile up at him, though there's something wrong with my vision--and I can't really see him anymore--but my other senses tell me he's there. ~Daddy loves me!~ And I'm falling.

"Well, wasn't that interesting?" Ultimecia has dark feathers, ravens' wings that constantly flutter and stir up lost ideas and leave a mental taste of sawdust that never truly goes away. "The man has balls, I'll give him that. Something to watch for -- next time around."

Adel isn't so well projected; a bitterness like citrus without the pleasant refreshing tang, and a molteness that warps the space around her. The witch-queen of Esthar hasn't been doing so well lately. She's having trouble holding on to her self. "Next time I'll grind you into dust!"

"Into dust, into dust!" Certyx the whirlwind shouts, a gleaming mad sprite of lunacy and childish malice. I'm sure she'd once been sane, before Adel had had her tortured to death. "And we'll add our tears, and make pies from the mud, and fill our stomachs with Ultimecia!"

"Hush now, be still." I feel Deluge move through the throng, until she's next to the other small girl. "There's time yet, there's time. Ultimecia will devour us all, and then -- and then we'll devour her in turn." She turns her regard to me, an impression of hazel-gold spring-mint mold-spore see-touch-taste. "Ain't that right Mam?"

What's right anymore? The paths circle 'round, and there are no right choices. The puzzle box has no key. Edea says nothing, eloquent in her spurning.

And we touch.

"We know you're in there Rinoa!"

Well, I'd hope so. If SeeDs of their caliber couldn't make out the blood trail we left behind us while we fled -- I'd hate to think of how poorly the junior classmen are faring. Although it'd be gratifying if the decline could be attributed to me; I've done my best to thin out their ranks over the years.

I look over to Zell, crumpled in the corner like a girl-child's cast-away doll, his breathing shallow and bubbling crimson from both his nostrils and the gaping wound left by Irvine's lucky pulse ammo hit. I don't know why he's stayed with me all these years, unless it's from misplaced gratitude for the revenge I took upon his father. Zell has always had an endearingly innocent idea of justice, but since that day so long ago, not even the most naïve babe-in-arms could mistake my course of action as *good.*

His eyes are fixed on mine, and he bares his teeth in a friendly fashion, eyeteeth slick with scarlet. "It's been fun, Rin," he tries to say, but his dearly fought-for breath whistles from the bullet wound instead. And Goddess help me, I'm smiling back; it has been fun tearing apart the world. ~But what will I do, now that you're gone?~

He hears me; how could he not? While not my knight, he has been my only companion since my exile began. No, not knight. But a familiar? Perhaps. That's what the Shumi call him: Dincht, the Witch's Familiar. And I know I won't long survive his death. He's too tied up in my power. He guards what little remains of my soul.

And I vow to him he'll be avenged. He's not happy about that, but knows better than to argue -- or maybe it's that he no longer has the strength. I get one last jumbled burst from him, of anxiety and love and gnawing worry before he fades into the mists that even I at the height of my power couldn't penetrate. But I'm not concerned; I'll be meeting up with him soon enough.

The door to the dilapidated cottage where we'd sought shelter is kicked open, and I blink my eyes at the swirling eddy of dusty sunlight that sweeps into the room. I have to hold back a smirk; how heroically he stands, in that pose I'd caught him practicing in the mirror each morning, all those many years ago, before I'd tried to kill him. And how fitting, that his last stand be an affectation unworthy of the cheapest gutter whore.

"Squall," I purr, "please do come in. It's been so long"

His fury is almost palpable, but he's held back by one slender hand resting on his shoulder. Oh yes, I mustn't ever forget that he's now part of a matched set. Wherever the Leonhart goes, so to must follow his sharpshooter. The folktales passed from village to village are filled with notions of romance. How shocked the common people would be, if given the chance to witness this scene.

"Bitch!" Irvine snarls, and I do believe he means it! The laughter which rings from the flimsy walls startles even myself, but I can't stop it, though I wrap one arm around my middle, and bite at the fingers of other hand. I'm sure tears of mirth would be streaming down my cheeks, if I had an ounce of water left to spare in my body. "Laugh all you want; there's no way out this time."

No, there isn't, is there? Hasn't that always been the problem? What wonderful dance partners the two of them have been. But now time draws short, and I'm sure Zell is missing me, wherever he's gotten himself off to. And I can't bring my giggling under control, though I'd had notions of a much more impressive ending.

"I'm sorry Rinoa." Not sorry enough to drop Lion Heart though, I see. But I should give Squall more credit; once upon a time, he'd not had a vindictive bone in his body. Maybe it all stems from that slender piece of metal still embedded in his heart. Or maybe it's his lover that goads him on. No matter.

SeeDs' purpose is to defeat the sorceress. A shame that none of them know how futile a goal that is.

"Me too Squall." I raise my arms, and release the inferno that I'd been holding back. Fire lashes out, and in seconds the cottage is engulfed. The two men's screams are almost musical; a fitting choir to accompany my on my journey. "You have no idea how much."

"How beautiful." If Adel had lips, she'd be licking them -- if she had a tongue, I suppose. "I wasn't expecting that."

"There's more to the witch-girl than I credited her with." Onyx wings beat a tempo against the walls of nothingness that surround us. They sound more metallic than I remember them; the rustle is all but gone from their buffeting. "I almost believe that she may become one of us."

I hide behind Edea's presence, faint though it is. She, in turn, searches the noisy throng, almost desperate. "Who did the power pass on to? Who?"

Someone who feels grandmotherly and kind tugs at our attention, and we turn upon her, hungry in a way the living can scarcely understand. "What are you?" she asks, horrified at the multitude she's suddenly faced with.

"Power. Power power" Certyx chants, the words slurring together into a calming singsong. "You're not real, we're not real -- come play the game!"

And we touch.

"And there's been no change?"

Why does he bother asking that wretched excuse of a doctor? He knows perfectly well I can read the question from his mind. I've told them all, often enough, yet still they pretend not to understand me. ~I'm right here, Squall!~ I screech at him, but he acts as though he's heard nothing. They all do. I'm getting damned-right tired of it.

"I'm afraid not. She's still trapped inside her delusions; we've had to restrain her -- she kept trying to bite the orderlies. And any attempt to talk to her," the doctor shakes his head, and I *see* him doing it, I do!, though there's no window I can peer out of, only windows others can use to peer in, "only strengthens her belief that she can read minds. Frankly, Mr. Leonhart, we're at a loss. She grows worse each day"

"I'd like to see her." I can see the pain etched upon my beloved's face. What I wouldn't give for the chance to soothe it away with gentle kisses and the soft caresses I've been saving up. The walls don't like to be stroked. They object most strenuously. And lately, for some reason, I haven't been able to account for my hands. I'm sure they're around here somewhere

"I'm not sure that's wise." Hateful, hurtful doctor! What right does he have to keep my love away? ~Squall? Squall, I need you!~ Need you, want you, love you! I won, I won, and you're mine, only mine "She may not recognize you in the state she's in."

No no, not true my dearest! I'll always know you, my tempestuous storm-wracked Squall. You didn't want them to send me here -- you want them to free me from this room, right? Of course, of course, and we'll go home together, and talk of little things, and I'll ask you how your day's been, and we'll hold hands while the moon rises Although, I might need some help with that. I don't quite know where my hands are at the moment.

"She's my wife!" he pleads with that mockery of a psychiatrist, and I shout out agreement, affirmation, concordance. Squall, my husband, my heart; he'll get me out of here. He loves me. He does.

But that horrible horrible man convinces my love that he should leave without visiting me. And so he does, though I scream my throat raw trying to convince him otherwise. Which only serves to draw in the orderlies, dressed in their too-bright white uniforms, and I fight as best I can against them, but it does no good, no good, no good.

The jab of a needle, and they leave me curled up against one of the walls that doesn't like to be stroked, and I can't think, and I can't feel, and my hair hangs into my eyes, but I can't brush it away, 'cause I can't quite recall where I happened to misplace my hands

"Mam? Mam!? It's over, it's okay, you can forget it if you want," Deluge comforts me while I sob as best I can in this prison just off-set from actual existence.

"Sweet Hyne," Edea says, her presence stronger than it ought to be, "that was a first."

"And hopefully a last." Even Ultimecia is shaken by the experience, which makes me wonder, while I slowly pull myself back together, exactly how much of our selves we have lost. "It's rather hard making plans to take over the world while strapped in a straight-jacket." She sighs, an unfamiliar sound. "Do you think Squall *ever* came to visit?"

"He was there," the youngest of us insists, swaying to the beat of entropy's movement. Certyx beams, having, out of all of us, best handled the last cycle. While madness is a new acquaintance for most of us, she converses with the monster every day. "He brought us flowers grown down by the river, and we danced, and we danced"

Adel hasn't said anything, and it worries me. While the rest of us grow stronger, she weakens. I remember the grandmotherly voice, who died out eons ago. I'd hate to lose Adel. She's the only one capable of restraining Certyx; the little leach would have us completely drained, otherwise. I reach out to the once-proud sorceress

and we touch.

"Mam Mam, come look!"

"I'm resting Deluge," I call back to her, rocking gently in the wicker chair Selphie had given me as a house-warming present. "Momma's tired."

I hear the sound of tiny feet pattering, and then the screen door swings open, clattering against the aluminum siding of the porch. My daughter rushes out, one of her black pigtails come half-undone and her purple jumper more colorful than ever from the wet smears of enthusiastically applied finger paint. She burrows into my lap, smelling of fabric-softener and the ticklish scent of magic marker. "But Mam! I drew you a picture!"

"Did you now, ragamuffin?" I turn her around so she's no longer sitting directly on my hipbones, and peer over her shoulder to the large sheet of paper she's proudly holding up. "Let me look."

"There's me," she explains with a small child's seriousness, her finger pointing at a red and blue swirl that looks far more like a beach ball than my cherished Deluge. "An' that," the pink-daubed finger inches to the right, "is Unka Saifaa! He's pretty!"

I'd scarcely use pretty to describe Seifer, but my daughter adores him, and he dotes upon her as well. "Very nice. Do you want to hang it on the fridge?" At the rate she's going, I'm going to have to buy another package of magnets when I go to the store on Friday.

"Dunno." She leans back against me snuggling, and I wrap my arms around her. "Mam? Unka Saifaa's gonna be my Knight. Is that okay?"

I cuddle her closer, thoughtful. "Knights are only for sorceresses, darling. I think you're a bit too young for that, yet."

"Oh no Mam," she contradicts me, turning around, her eyes--his eyes--round and solemn. "Unka Saifaa" her face screws up comically as she tries to remember a word, "he's *destined* to be my Knight." She pats my cheek with one chubby hand, leaving behind a trail pink. "Your Knight is dead. You killed Pappa, an' now you have no Knight."

"Who told you that?" I ask her, furious. Deluge is in no way ready to learn the truth; I can barely handle the past myself. That's it, I'm getting up, and calling Seifer, and Hyne protect him if he's been telling my daughter tales!

"The nice lady did. She said you killed Pappa, coz you thought he loved someone else. But he really only ever loved you," she tells me, her voice soft, and her Rs sounding like Ws half the time. "An' alla Pappa's friends felt sorry for you, an' instead of killing you like they should've, they were all sissies, an' became your friends instead."

She's still staring at me, my precious Deluge, posthumous daughter of the man who haunts my dreams, but her eyes now shine topaz in the afternoon light. I've slain anacondaurs who've had more compassion in their viperous visages. "Ultimecia."

"Yeah, that's the nice lady's name!" Deluge nods her head firmly, little girl lips pursed into a bitter woman's leer. "An' she promised Unka Saifaa would be my Knight."

I don't know what to do. We killed Ultimecia, I know we did, there in her castle floating above a ruined future world. "Honey," I try explaining carefully, "only sorceresses have Knights. You're not a sorceress"

"But I will be when you die!" Her smile is all chubby dimples and simple joy. She pats my cheek again, but this time I can't feel it. I can't -- can't feel that side of my face at all. "Don't worry Mam! The nice lady said this'll just make you sleepy. Then you'll get to see Pappa again. Aren't you happy?"

Happy? Oh Goddess, the forms that your revenge takes. So numb I can't even get out of the chair, let alone to the phone to pass some sort of a warning to Garden -- to Seifer. This will destroy him. He was barely able to recover from Ultimecia's possession.

"Be a good girl," I mumble to my angel, my tiny scrap of goodness in an otherwise miserable life.

"I'm a good girl!" she burbles back, bouncing, and she just *doesn't* understand. "Love you Mam!"

We're crying together this time, Deluge and I. How that travesty ever came about

Ultimecia gloats. "Looks like I won that round!" What right does she have to her self-satisfaction? Recriminations burn along my tongue, but Certyx speaks first.

"Silly raven woman, what did you win? You were already dead; the spiral's always looping. Around and around," she merrily keeps going, like a ribbon twisting in a rising gale.

"There's no end to this; why won't it end?" Adel's voice is shattered; the pieces of it scrape together, no longer molten, no longer sharp. "Over and over"

"Around and around"

Edea gasps, and joins us in our sobbing.

And we touch.

"Rinoa, wait!"

Wait, he tells me? After he's pursued me across the length and breadth of Galbadia? Winhill's to my right, but there's no place there to hide, to shelter, to catch a breath that doesn't tear and choke me. Chalky cliffs to the left, and all I can do is run parallel to them, and hope against hope that he trips and falls to his death.

"Please, I just want to talk" If anything, he's breathing harder than me. My fault, all my fault; maybe there's no need for him to fall -- maybe his poor abused heart will finally give out on him. "Rinoa!"

The agony in his voice! I'd run further, but the cliff suddenly swings in, and damned if I haven't just run myself into a corner. I turn around, and glare, but Lion Heart's blocking my path, even if its wielder is doubled over in agony, fighting for breath.

"Why Squall?" I scream at him, and as much as I try to stifle it, I can hear the pleading tone. "Why can't you leave me alone? I know that you hate me" And now I'm crying, and the shame of it scalds me worse than the tears dripping down my face. "I know I have to die! And I can handle it, as long as it's not you. Not you! I don't want to die, knowing that it's you!"

"Rinoa," he's gasping, and clutching at his chest, and I dread to think the damage he's done to all of Dr. Kadowaki's patient healing, "listen to me. I forgive you. I -- could never hate you. Just -- come back to Garden. Matron thinks she knows what's wrong."

Wrong? What could possibly be wrong? I fucking tried to kill my boyfriend the night he planned to propose to me, and I'm hearing voices in my head, and some of them are urging me to try it again, while others are telling me to surrender, and one is repeating an Estharian jump rope rhyme endlessly, which wouldn't bother me half as much if I actually knew how to speak that obscure Estharian dialect

I grab hold of my hair and pull, pull, pull it out from the temples. Pull hard enough, and it'll drown out the mad chorus ringing inside my head. Pull enough, and something will eventually give.

"Rinoa, Rinoa, stop it!" But I can't, doesn't he see that? Stop, and I'll run to his side, and kiss him, or strangle him, or push him from the cliff into the foaming green-deep below. "Edea can help. I love you -- we can get through this! Please, for me?"

He holds out his hand, and I stare at it, at the soft supple leather covering fingers and palm and sinewy wrist. ~Love me Squall? Love me?~ And I'd never dreamed I'd be forgiven. I love him too; too much, perhaps, though mom told me there's no such thing as too much love. Shaking, I reach out to accept what he's offering.

But my hand cannot cross the distance, for the ground I've been standing on chooses this moment to give way. Squall though Squall, my Knight, my love, sees what's happening, and lunges forward, and catches me, as he has so many times before.

"Oh Squall, I was so scared!" I don't know if he can hear my words, what with the way I'm pressed to the crumbling rock. "I love you Squall, I do, I" I feel his grip weaken, and I force myself to look up.

Look up into eyes that once held the shimmer of the sky, now glazing, now clouding, now -- dead. My hand slips from his, and I fall. Fall with the knowledge that I'd managed to kill him after all. A human heart can only handle so much strain, and his, held together by no more than the delicate stitches of a grieving surgeon and the prayers of those that held him close, had finally given up on him.

And I'm falling, but with a flash of sudden prescience, I have a feeling that I may never hit the ground.

"And she cried, for her knight, good and true" And it's fitting, until Certyx moves on to something about blue-enameled dishes and dragons that covet cotton candy.

"Don't lose hope," Edea warns me, in her careful way, as if she's afraid whatever advice she may give might do more harm than good. "There has to be a way, a way out"

Ultimecia snorts, an inelegant sound; but then, she was anything but an elegant lady. "Not bloody likely. Why do you think I try so hard to destroy time? As long as there's time, there's us."

"This is all your fault!" Adel's in a rage, but here, there's nothing to take it out on. "If you hadn't of messed with time, Edea would've never gotten your power. There wouldn't be a loop! Edea couldn't pass the power to Rinoa, unto Deluge, up through the generations till it finally reaches you -- you -- you idiot who then passed it back to Edea to Rinoa to Deluge"

I'd feel more sorry for Adel, if she wasn't fading away so quickly. She's not *quite* part of the spiral Certainly, I take her powers each time around, but she's never been forced to accept them back. Her personality imprint isn't reinforced, the way the rest of ours are. And none of us can explain Certyx.

"Mam?" Deluge, my Deluge, innocent murdering child and caring, charming woman, and a thousand other things from a thousand different paths. "Is it true? Is Ultimecia really responsible for this?"

"How can we know, ragamuffin? We're just tattered remnants of souls passed from one witch to the next."

And we touch.

"Are you okay?"

I have to tilt my head back to meet the other woman's concerned stare. Am I okay? What kind of question is that? Anger rises, and it's pure rippling pleasure rushing through my veins. I'll show her; I'll show them all! And then something, a feathery touch, runs down my spine and I lose touch with the rage, and the coldness that's left in its place is enough to freeze me. ~Oh Goddess, lady of mercy, what was I about to do?~

"N-no" I quickly latch on to the blonde woman's hand; let it please be a lifeline to catch me before I drown. "No I'm not." Her blue eyes are concerned, and I can see it as concern, though I don't know what I'll see it as once the clarity fades. "Quistis -- can we talk?"

And After Serious Negotiation, Esse Stopped Writing!

Little Afterthought Notes: So, um, questions? I suppose I'd better start with Angels' Whispers. When I wrote it, I knew there were five possible outcomes. Squall and Irvine were lovers, and he did (or didn't) die. Squall and Irvine were *not* lovers, and he did (or didn't) die. Fifth option, Rinoa was sitting in the cafeteria the entire time, having a nice little episode of some kind. Now, if this were a normal sequel, I'd have to chose one outcome, and follow it. As you may have noticed, though, I didn't follow the formula.

All of the outcomes are valid. One sorceress passes her power unto the next, no problem. Sorceress from the future passes her power on to unsuspecting child-nurturer from the past, big problem. A circle is established, and until something breaks it (i.e. Ultimecia never becomes a witch) time will keep looping. To give Rinoa a fighting chance, I've assumed that the timestream is malleable.

Everybody hopelessly confused? Good, 'cause I am too. The sorceresses were never really talking to each other. It was stated in Angels' Whispers that when the power was transferred, it came with the personality of the person who'd held it before. Poor, poor Rinoa; one of the voices in her head was her own!

Who is Certyx? I dunno. One of the poor witches Adel beat to a bloody pulp, I s'pose. Why is she such a strong presence in the merge? Again, I dunno. She's the character that first popped into my head when the idea for this story came about, and I felt that she deserved better than to be wrote out.

So. Hated the ficcie? Let me know. Really really seriously disliked the story, but have moral objections against the word hate? Tell me about that as well. Otherwise, have a lovely day, watch out for rabid, bright yellow VWs, and don't cross the street when large, over-bearing chickens make dubious wing motions at you.