Disclaimer: Insert standard one. I don't make any monetary profit from this, blahblahblah, Square Enix owns Final Fantasy, etc.
A/N: Fic is rated for moral ambiguity and violence. Y'know, the non-smutty, 'M' rated stuff. I would also add 'not for the faint of heart', but I'm sure you've all read darker things than what my poor writing skills could ever convey. Let me state this clearly: you have been warned!
Ever wondered how SCE theme 8 came about? Why are mercenaries spoken with ill taste? Why am I wasting time asking these questions when you've already skipped this?
"Erinnerst du dich noch an dein Wort Das du mir gegeben hast?"
- BIOS (feat. Mika Kobayashi) from Guilty Crown
"SHE WATCHES WHEN YOU SLEEP!"
- briGriv at DeviantArt
"Xu is a magnificent bastard."
- Traingham, who just updated his Scents & Spices
["So we meet again, my fated one."
Someone called out to him, the familiarity of her voice causing his head to turn in quiet wonder.
A woman's voice, silky and melodic at the same time, calling out to him as he felt soft, warm hands, fingers thin and long with well-manicured tips trailing goosehairs up his arm whilst the other gently, adoringly, tucked a lock of hair behind his ear before both her palms rested against his cheeks, cupping his face.
Despite her touch, Squall was as good as blind, as he couldn't make out her features beyond the bright, white light. He squinted to adjust to the brightness, and gingerly made out the outline of her triangular jaw and slim, aristocratic neck.
There was a brilliant smile on her red lips, her teeth as white as the purest of pearls, and Squall knew that he should know her, and yet he couldn't place exactly where he had seen such a woman of blue blood.
The soft palms at the sides of his face brought him forward and despite the uncertainty of the situation, Squall couldn't seem to find it in himself to fight. The woman's pursed lips met with his creased brows at that spot where his scar ran with a feather-like touch before lingering mere breath's apart.
"You need not think so hard; not here, and not with me."
Another brush of his hair before he felt her head tuck itself underneath his chin and his arms instinctively wrapped around her shoulders, brushing against the fur lining the hem of her silk dress. Once again, there was a voice at the back of his mind that nagged at him to recognize the mysterious kitten basking in his embrace, and still his consciousness continued to be oblivious to her name.
"I suppose, requesting you to enjoy yourself was an exercise in futility, was it not?" There was a melodic sound that left her throat- a strange blend of a laugh, giggle, and chuckle- before he could feel her contented smile with every fiber of his being. "Such a silly man, though I suppose that is one of your endearing qualities."
"…Who are you?" It surprised him how easy it felt to talk her, as if they were aged friends that were never apart.
His words, however, put a stop to her reverent touches and her warmth drew from his chest. Gazing down at her, Squall still could not make out her face, and so could not see the warm, knowing if a bit melancholic twinkle in her eyes.
"That is irrelevant for now." She conceded, once more replacing her temples against his chest and breathing in his scent. "Know that I am here, and will continue to still be here, until you will stop calling out to me."
Squall felt her head shift upwards, watching him with a cool and patient look.
"Now tell me, my fated one, what has you so troubled?"
In the instant after her words flittered in his ears, memories assaulted his mind like pillagers intent on robbing him of his sanity.
Red crimson spurting upwards like a majestic fountain, the squelch of flesh rend with each passing blade, and the pitter-patter of water cascading down his blemished skin. The stench of iron and rotting flesh haunted his senses and flooded his mind. Pleas of mercy filled his ears before they were abruptly silenced, but still he could hear their bones shattering and meat tearing.
With practiced ease, Squall had disciplined his thoughts before responding, once more wondering why he could talk to her so easily.
She didn't believe his gruff reply, not for a second, but she knew him well enough to know that calling out to him would only encourage him to withdraw into himself. The woman was a master of the man fate had bestowed on her- knew every little trick to the man's mind and savored the power she had over him with an appetite that could never be satiated.
And so she waited, patiently, for she knew they had all the time in the world.
"It is something, silly man." An amused breath puffed against his chest before he felt her hand palm that spot just above his heart. "But you need not fret; I will always be here, waiting, until you are ready."
His eyelids shut tightly in annoyance, and yet he could not muster the strength to snap at her, for the way she spoke carried a mediating quality that gently reassured instead of the irritating persistence such speeches normally carried.
It reminded him of the promise he had made the young, budding Sorceress Heartilly so many years ago.]
An inebriating drink composed of up to four parts ethanol, and six parts a cocktail involving water sweetened with fruits or sugar. The active substance is converted to its aldehyde derivative, acetaldehyde, which under normal conditions is then metabolized into acetate, which is then used up by the body's processes to generate energy. Because of the body's limited enzymes that convert the toxic aldehyde to its more useful form, acetaldehyde tends to bio-accumulate, leading to a brief period of hypotension before homeostatic mechanisms kick the heart into high gear. Acetaldehyde itself is key in the disulfiram-ethanol reaction that causes the tell-tale flush of alcohol intoxication and one of the substances involved in the maddening post-alcoholic hangover.
The other one being methanol. Despite labels claiming otherwise, not all beverages are composed of pure ethanol, for such a feat is quite difficult and too expensive for just any business to achieve.
Which was why Squall Leonhart blended his own vodka using much purer volumes of ethanol he orders from the stash Dr Kadowaki keeps for medicinal purposes, diluted with his own stash of glucose, distilled water, and whatever fruit he feels like adding to taste. While not the tastiest of drinks, the SeeD Commander was able to enjoy the mind-numbing buzz without having to worry too much about the morning-after hangover, allowing him to proceed with business as scheduled.
"Have you been drinking again, Squall?"
Of course, not everything is foolproof; a small percentage of alcohol is eliminated unchanged either through one's bodily fluids or breath.
"… Maybe." His blue eyes broke the blonde woman's accusing gaze, staring at the folder she held in her hands. "Those are the reports?" A hand gloved in black leather reached out to relieve the woman of her burden, only for said woman to step backwards just out of his reach.
"You really have to stop this, Squall." Quistis admonished him, her aquamarine eyes staring at him meaningful through her glasses. "If the stress of all this is getting to you, then you should really quit."
He opened his mouth. "I ca-"
"And don't tell me that you can handle this." She continued without pause, speaking the exact words he was about to protest with. In another time, he would have shaken his head before ignoring her, and she would giggle at the brunet's predictability. Sadly, that time was long and gone, and the two of them had matured even further. Or was it that Squall had gone to a place beyond her reach? As if he wasn't already beyond her arm's length before. "Squall… I'm worried about you. We all are."
Quistis laid the folder she was carrying down on top of his wooden desk quietly, and was inwardly pleased that despite everything, Squall was still the man she knew. Silent and attentive, he listened to her voice and internalizing her words. "I understand what you hope to achieve. Believe me, I do, but I can't stand your slowly killing yourself… as if you don't have enough on your plate already."
"If you understand," Squall spoke up, and Quistis palmed her forehead at knowing which words were coming out next. "Then let me continue."
An irritated glare left the corner of her eyes. "You're missing the point. You and I have both seen our fair share of death. Maybe you more so than me, but that's beside my point. What has us worried, Squall, is that maybe you aren't suited for this life."
'Or maybe that it's time for you to give up.' She wordlessly added.
Squall took in a deep breath before exhaling, his shoulders sagging as the calming air left his chest. There was a subtle hint of alcohol that no manner of brushing was able to take away from him, and it reminded Quistis that she needed to have yet another word with Dr Kadowaki.
"I'm fine, Quisty." There was a small smile that twitched at the corners of his lips as he called her pet-name with warm affection, and for almost an instant she believed in his white lie. "… Thank you."
'A skull thicker than a Ruby Dragon's hide…' She shook her head wryly. "Very well. But you should mind your drinking more; you can't just rely on your Guardian Forces and Esuna's to detoxify you." A thoughtful smile encroached on her cheeks. "Especially Esuna's; just between you and me, they don't cure hangovers or drunkenness."
His brow rose with unveiled curiosity. "Speaking from experience?"
"You'll have to come and drink with me one of these days to find out." His best friend teased him with an inviting allure in her eyes before she schooled herself, her entire posture brimming with her willingness to support him. Quistis raised her arm to salute. "I'll be going now, Commander Leonhart." She spoke his title with a mocking jest.
"You are dismissed." He nodded, ignoring her banter.
Squall's eyes trailed his former instructor as she turned around and started walking towards the lift. Just before entering, she threw another reassuring smile over her shoulder, the light of the room reflecting a brilliant halo over her golden locks.
"Do take care of yourself, Squall. We all worry about you."
"…" He nodded his head, but did not promise anything.
As the lift came and took his former instructor away, Squall addressed the folder she had brought him detailing SeeD's newest assignment- should he choose to accept- as well as the results of her preliminary investigation. Dark shadows cast over his eyes as he continued reading through the file; he would have to send Xu's team again to gather intelligence and validate the statement before he would take any action, though chances were that he would accept.
Still, if the documents were true, then it would seem like he'd have to get his hands dirty again.
There was the tell-tale beep before his intercom's speakers sounded.
["Commander Leonhart, there is an urgent situation at the gates that requires your attention."]
Squall let out a tired sigh before setting his pen down; he had been at it through the entire morning and it was now just an hour after noon; he felt that this was a good a time as any to stop, having accomplished much already.
He pressed the red button on his speaker before giving his reply. "I'm on my way."
Squall aligned the printed sheets before replacing them back into a neatly labeled folder and storing them in his drawer, habitually noting the mechanical click signifying that the compartment was locked. The young Commander of SeeD made his way to the lift, picking up his jacket from where it was hanging off the coat holder and slipping his arms through the familiar leather sleeves just as the lift opened in front of him.
The lift's doors opened not a minute later with its usual ding, and Squall calmly made his way to Balamb Garden's gates, nodding his head coolly when the cadets would either waver or, for the more serious few, salute when their eyes caught of the SeeD.
A bead of sweat formed at the back of his head when he spotted the familiar forms of Zell, Quistis, and Xu crowding around something- or someone, he guessed; the same someone that apparently needed his presence to subdue.
"Yo Squall!" Zell was the first to spot the approaching man and the blond Dincht waved wildly. "Over here, man! Come quick!
"Ah, Commander Squall." Xu purposely teased, her eyes glittering with mischievousness as she greeted him with a small, mocking curtsy. "All yours."
"Squall." Quistis nodded warmly before moving to the side. "You would never guess who dropped in."
"Leonhart." An annoyed grunt came and Squall blinked at the familiar mass of pink hair. "Your keys aren't working."
"… Lightning." Squall stared, surprise leaving his mouth at the strawberry blonde's sudden appearance. "...I wasn't expecting you."
The eldest Farron shrugged nonchalantly. "My ride just docked in the aerodrome an hour ago. I made my way to your place, but your keys don't seem to be working."
As Squall approached, his eyes taking in the sight of the large bag beside the woman's feet, he didn't see the small frown that marred Quistis' face as his blue orbs met the calculating glint in Xu's at the mention of Lightning having access to the lion's den.
"I moved out of my old apartment recently." Squall informed the casually-dressed Brigadier-General coolly. "You never really mentioned you were visiting."
"It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. The higher ups decided it was best to personally deliver this." She tapped the side-pocket of her travel coat, emphasizing that there was a package for him inside.
Squall nodded. If the contents were high profile enough that it warranted the woman's presence for delivery, then it was best she neither mention any more about it and its contents nor deliver it to him out in the open. Of course, the notion of the lauded Brigadier General crossing oceans to deliver a parcel brought an amused twitch to his lips as he stopped himself from commenting on what that made her.
Naturally, Zell had no such self-restraint as he pointed out good-naturedly, though his words came out like a mocking laugh. "What, Pulse turned you into a messenger girl?"
The tattooed SeeD took a reflexive step back at Lightning's withering glare.
"No." She hissed, her tone promising a swift death if he ever decided to put his foot in his mouth again. "I volunteered. There isn't much to do in Pulse at the moment so I decided to take a vacation."
"Ah, I see, I see." Xu nodded her head, as did Zell. Quistis continued to frown at the woman before giving a sigh- something Squall noticed but chose not to comment on. "Such a wonderful life you must have." Xu cooed before staring at Squall pitifully, her bottom lip quivering. "Our dear slave-driver has been forcing us beyond our limits as of late, whip and all."
"…You can always opt out." Squall leveled the moaning woman with a pointed stare. "Besides, you're well compensated."
"Oh dear, you see!" Xu exclaimed with theatric horror, resting her head on an amused Lightning's shoulder. "We're little more than call girls in his eyes. Nay, even call girls receive better compensation!"
A barely noticeable hint of pink blossomed on Quistis' face having been the only one to catch Xu's implication.
"It's alright." Lightning patted the woman's back, whose eyes started watering with crocodile tears. Xu had been one of the SeeDs she had worked with, mostly due to the brunette's work as a scout, and Lightning found the woman's friendly but not at all overbearing nature infectious, the two women striking a warm friendship with one another before roping in Quistis Trepe, who was another one of the few SeeDs with their head firmly attached to their shoulders. "You can take me around tonight. I'm sure Squall won't mind."
It was at this point where Squall felt himself subject to both women's imploring gazes, Lightning's more expectant than Xu's pleading, and felt his will crumble.
'I guess I'll just send Xu out some other time.' Squall reluctantly conceded under their combined might. "…Fine."
"Thank you, Commander Leonhart." Xu suddenly beamed; her mood a complete heel-turn from her previous state. "Naturally, Quistis and Selphie are coming with us." Her eyes focused on his with hawk-like intensity. "We'll also be taking the day off tomorrow."
"…Whatever." Squall ignored Zell's poorly-restrained guffaws at how well he was played as he turned his attention back to Lightning. "Are you staying over at my place?"
"Yeah, you can take my bags ahead." Lightning nodded, grabbing the straps of her military-issue duffel bag and handing it to him. "You don't have any plans tonight, right?" The way she said it so assumingly made the gathered SeeDs struggle to subdue the urge to snicker at their Commander.
"… Not really." Squall's blue eyes narrowed in annoyance but nonetheless complied. Xu suddenly shot Quistis a look, wagging her thumb at the blonde woman and drawing another sigh from her. "Xu can take you to my new place."
His words struck a chord in the blonde Trepe.
"Why does Xu know where you live?" Quistis blinked questioningly, unable to hide the speck of suspicious jealousy from her tone; thankfully only Xu picked it up. It was a valid point though; even she didn't know where Squall stayed outside of Garden's dorms, as the man rarely slept out, so she wondered why her best friend would be privy to such information.
Her statement also drew a pointed stare from the man as he stated the obvious. "When does Xu not know anything?"
"…Good point." Quistis couldn't really counter that logic.
At least the guilty Xu had the decency to blush as the brunette fanned her cheeks. "Ah, to receive such praise from my Commander..."
"I'll see you later then." Squall nodded his head at the visiting woman, slinging her bag around one shoulder.
"Right." She agreed.
The brunet paused in his step before snapping his head at the uncharacteristically quiet martial artist, who had been slowly slinking away in the background. "You're still on duty, Zell."
"Aw damn it!"
An amused smirk crossed his lips. "Finish your work and hand me your report, then you can leave by four."
In an instant, Squall found himself in a headlock while the tattooed man cheered. "I knew you wouldn't let a man down, Squall!"
"Off me, Dincht!"
Quistis and Xu giggled at the scene while Lightning smirked softly as Squall struggled to free himself from Zell's clutches. As Squall finally dislodged himself from Zell's abrupt attack, he met Xu's reassuring gaze as the young woman led the party of three towards the garage before setting off for town.
["So we meet again, my fated one."
The familiarity with which she called him with unsettled him, and once again he felt her arms wrap around his shoulders though this time he felt her weight press against his back. The fur lining the hem of her dress lightly tickled his nape with each caress as she continued to press against him more, the softness of her mounds cushioning her torso against his trapezius as she draped her arms around his torso and nuzzled her head against his neck.
He should turn his head to the side, Squall knows, but for some reason he could not, and his glazed eyes once more stared at the blank expanse of nothingness.
"You are more troubled than previous; did something unfortunate happen, perhaps?"
"… Who are you, really?" His eyes did not waver as the long digits of her hand began to trail affectionate touches against his cheek. Squall idly noted that she had fingers fit for a pianist.
"Or perhaps it is the other case; something unexpected happened."
And once again, she was evading his question.
Squall let out a tired breath yet still could not muster the strength nor will to shrug off her familiar, and not at all unpleasant, touch. It was rather disconcerting, but he decided not to dwell too much on such thoughts.
If things turned sour, then he would end her right then and there; dream weaver or not.
"You need not worry, darling." Her husky breath against his ear trailed shivers down his spine and he willed discipline onto himself. The woman's arms trailed languidly across his shoulders in retreat before resting her palms against his muscles and kneading the knots away. "I am now here to confront you in a manner different to what we both are accustomed to."
"…You talk too much." He grumbled back but nonetheless appreciated her expert ministrations.
"And you express too little." She whispered back nonplussed. "It will be much easier on yourself if you confide in me." The woman shifted and Squall suddenly felt her soothing heart beat against his back. "Can you feel me, my fated one? I only am here to comfort you. You can speak freely with me, for while you are incredibly attractive whilst you brood, it is entirely unhealthy for you to keep such mawkish thoughts to yourself."
"…" He didn't speak as he extricated himself from the woman's embrace. Once more, he could not contrast her features from the blinding brightness of the white world, and was unperturbed when she gathered his hands in hers. Squall could feel her eyes gazing up at him patiently, and another kiss planted itself on his creased brows- distracting him from once more trying to identify her familiar presence.
The woman drew back and Squall found his hands resting on her slim waist. He could feel a radiant glow from her lips beaming down on him from his unconscious action.
"So you are ready to converse?" Her voice was assuming, but not at all forceful.
Squall took in a breath before regaling her with another tale of blood coldly spilled and of the assuming woman that came over to visit unassumingly, and finally his uncertainty of the extent of that same woman's affection; he felt so selfish in his wanting and expecting everything to react in his best interest.
There was just something so familiar about his listener that put his guard at ease.]
Squall Leonhart had no need for an alarm clock.
The SeeD Commander was an early riser- as was most of Garden's populace. Many years of having to wake up early for the morning drills had conditioned the man's body clock so precisely that he always woke up just as the sun was about to shine its radiant light over Balamb. It wasn't at all a beneficial habit, for no one suffered jet lag worse than him.
The morning after was no exception.
Squall's eyes shot open, his pupils quickly adjusting to the light entering through his window before reflexively staring down on the woman who slept beside him, her back pressed against his side. With one introspective blink, Squall slowly extricated himself from the warm sheets, being as careful as he could to not wake up the sleeping woman.
"…Had a rough night?" Lightning's voice suddenly spoke up.
"…" He glanced over at her; the strawberry blonde hadn't bothered to turn in his direction, most likely too content to move. "…Wouldn't you know?"
After all, she slept beside him so if he did toss and turn, she should know.
"You're in a bad mood." She remarked dangerously, tilting her head so that one glacial eye peeked at him from beneath her locks. Lightning was unhappy with the snide tone he took and had no qualms making that fact known to him. "Something is up."
Squall broke their brief impasse coolly. "…Sorry. I haven't been sleeping well."
The woman finally shifted, turning towards him before drawing herself to sit on the bed with her hands firmly planted on the soft mattress to support her weight as she stared at him with trace amounts of worry. "Tell me about it."
"…" Squall returned her stare, his eyes never betraying the conflict brewing inside of him. "It's nothing." He finally amended with a tight jaw. "It'll pass." 'This is just a phase.'
"Hey," Squall blinked at her when she placed a hand on his shoulder. "You're keeping me in the dark again."
A sharp tug and a heartbeat later found Squall crashing onto the bed. Squall let out a surprised grunt with a protest at the tip of his tongue until Lightning literally pounced on the opportunity to pin his body beneath her.
"Talk to me, Leonhart." There was a stern glare in her eyes while she barked her order.
He glared back at her defiantly. "I already told you. This will pass."
"Look, schoolboy," Her weight pressed down on him even more as she leaned over his torso to stare at him dead in the eyes. "I know we haven't been dating for long, but I can tell when there's something wrong with you."
Squall's glare intensified as he interjected. "You're going to play the guilt card next."
She smashed her forehead against his nose in retaliation. "Quiet you. As I was saying, if you really want to make this work, then you have to work with me here." Lightning let go of his wrists and drew herself back until she was straddling his waist. "See, Squall. This is me reaching out to you. So talk." Her eyes glimmered meaningfully. "I can take it."
Squall pressed his eyelids together in contemplation before letting out a defeated breath. "…I've just been having these weird dreams lately." He confessed.
Lightning nodded before prodding him. "Go on."
"I'm getting there." He glared at the impatient woman. "…You trust me, right?" Squall asked her skeptically and received an honest nod from her. "…Alright. There's a woman that has been barging in my dreams. It's been happening for a while already."
"…" There was a pregnant silence as Lightning digested his words. The strawberry blonde finally spoke, but not without a dangerous edge. "…Leonhart…"
"I don't know her, and nothing happens." That was the truth. It was clear even to him what his words sounded like.
Lightning continued to scrutinize him before finally grumbling out. "Fine. I guess that explains your normal psyche evaluation."
Squall's brow twitched at the breach in confidentiality. "You read my profile?"
"Not exactly." She retorted gruffly before listing out. "SeeD has the authority, Xu is one of your elites, and I spent yesterday afternoon catching up with her. Do the math."
His lips thinned as his head sunk deeper into the mattress with a mumble. "I'll need to have a word with her about privacy."
"No you won't." Lightning replied swiftly Squall blinked at her questioningly so she pointed out. "Not today anyway. You gave her the day off."
"So I did." He huffed to himself darkly. 'Well-played, Xu.'
"Squall…" Lightning called his full attention. Her shoulders sagged while her hands rested on his stomach, making the woman look smaller than she usually was. "I was worried when I first heard. You should have told me sooner. You could have called me, at the very least." Her fingers curled into a loose fist on top of his white cotton shirt. "Don't hide things from me, got it?"
Her words made his heart ache with regret.
Squall flexed his abdomen as he drew himself upwards to sit on the bed as Lightning shifted her position so that she was now on his thighs. "…I take it your visit wasn't 'spur-of-the-moment' then?"
"Oh it was." She responded without thought. "As soon as I heard, I looked for the closest excuse I could find to come visit. Besides, just because one of us don't have our own personal airship," Lightning glared at him playfully. "doesn't mean either of us can't drop by. And like I said, there's nothing to do at Pulse."
"Hmph." Squall grunted approvingly. "…I don't mind the visit, though next time you should tell me."
Lightning took the chance to strike up a deal. "Promise to tell me whenever something's bothering you."
Steel blue eyes narrowed at the woman in annoyance before conceding with a sigh. "…now get off me."
"Glad we had this talk." The strawberry blonde complied with a triumphant smirk, throwing her legs across the bed's edge before she made her way towards his shower. "I'm going on ahead. I'm meeting with everyone after breakfast."
"Hnn…" Squall watched her disappear into the next room before letting out a tired sigh.
"And wash your mouth." Lightning commanded as she stopped by the door. "I don't mind you having a drink on occasion but I don't like you smelling like a drunk."
Squall sighed before picking himself off from the bed. He really needed to have a word with Xu about her loose lips, but as Lightning said, that could wait.
Despite not feeling right about it, Squall was just relieved that Lightning had bought his half-truth as he prepared to make the arrangements for his day whilst was visiting woman was busy, grabbing the keys to his old apartment, inwardly glad he changed the lock out of paranoia.
That same paranoia was also the reason he had quickly moved to his spare apartment, since his old living quarters was compromised.
It didn't matter, he supposed, if the man occupying his old room wouldn't give him any more information, since he already had what he needed thanks to Quistis' findings. And with Xu buying him time, Squall knew what he had to do.
He had a job to finish.
Squall shut the door behind him, the locking mechanism sealing it shut with an ominous click.
Immediately, the foul stench of blood and bile assaulted his senses. Squall wordlessly made his way inward, nonplussed, sandwich in hand. As he made his way to the small living room, trashed beyond recognition from the scuffle mere five days previous, Squall remained unfazed as the man sitting in the middle of the room, bound to steel chair, opened his bloodshot eye to glare at him weakly, his spirit having already been broken since day two.
"I trust you are as normal." Squall greeted coolly as he took the seat in front of the man.
The man muttered something that he couldn't make out because of the piece of cloth that bound his mouth. His good eye unconsciously trailed towards the mass of food in his torturer's hand.
Squall ignored him as he took a bite from his snack. "I apologize. I meant to come earlier this morning, but there was a change of plans." Another series of muffled grunts came from the bound man's mouth. "Rest assured that I shall release you today."
The captive's eyes widened with alarm, and Squall continued chewing on his food. "But before that, is there anything else you want to confess?"
Squall received a one-eyed glare in reply and he finished his sandwich with one gulp before rising from his seat and undoing the man's gag.
His captive immediately stammered through his missing teeth. "Ah tole yah ever'thin' ah know! Wha' moh dah yah wan'? !"
"Anything, really." Squall shrugged nonchalantly. "Believe it or not, I don't enjoy doing this." He craned his head towards the bloody mess.
There was a cup on the tea-table filled with the man's missing teeth next to a nearly-empty bottle of vinegar and a tall glass filled with murky red liquid where the man's missing eye floated after Squall had carved it out. His would-be assassin himself was unrecognizable from when he first attacked; his cheeks were swollen and many lacerations and burn marks littered his bare torso and torn jeans, hints of his ribs showing from starvation and muscle wasting. Half of the captive mercenary's right ear was missing. The man sported bald patches on his head, and it reminded Squall that he'd have to thoroughly clean his carpets to divest it of the man's missing hair and nails. Or maybe he should just replace it altogether; those blood stains would prove extremely difficult to cleanse.
"Nevertheless," The SeeD Commander continued clinically, breaking off from his brief introspection. "As you said when you tried to kill me;" Squall's tone took an ominous fall to the bound man's hearing. "This isn't anything personal. You should understand since we're both mercenaries."
"Yah… yah sick fuck!" He gasped out after realizing that Squall had quoted him word-for-word.
Again, Squall leveled him with a piercing glare. "So, nothing?"
The man spat blood at his shoes. "Go tah hell."
"Very well." Squall nodded his head before standing, making his way to the shower room much to his captive's puzzlement.
"Wher- wher're yah goin'?" He struggled to keep the SeeD in his sights.
The sound of running water filled the room before Squall coolly re-entered the living room, walking behind the man before grabbing him roughly by his bound hands and lifting both him and the chair he was tied to in a feat of superhuman skill. The captive started to panic.
"O-oi! Wha're yah planin'? ! Thisn't how dis wo'ks!"
"I am releasing you." Squall told him coolly as he dragged the man towards the shower.
The man renewed his struggle when it finally sunk in what Squall's ominous words meant.
"Ah have righ's!" The man gurgled in a panic.
The SeeD Commander didn't even bat an eyelash as he coolly stated. "International charter clearly states that whatever happens to SeeD, remains in SeeD, to be resolved by SeeD. You should have known better."
And not to mention that as an outlaw, the man wasn't affiliated to any state. Squall had free reign to do whatever he wanted to the man.
"Puhlease!" He begged. "Ah've a kid! She's v'ry ill! Yah wouldn' kill a fathah, righ'? Ah'nly asep'ed dah job b'cos o' dah pay, ah swear!"
"Yes. Doreen." His daughter's words leaving Squall's lips caused his blood to run cold. Squall ignored it as he continued on with clinical detachment. "Ten years old. Suffering from what is most likely a lung infection of some sort. Hemoptysis suggests tuberculosis. Mother succumbed to a similar illness three years ago." He tossed the bound man into the tub without care. "Rest in peace; I will personally send her to a caring orphanage once she recovers."
The man yelped when the icy cold water splashed against his back.
"I have also confirmed that your benefactor is indeed someone I am hired to kill." Squall stared him straight in the eye. "You will be seeing each other soon."
"Mon'ser! Y-yah're a mon'ser!"
Squall raised his hand and his gunblade flashed into existence.
"Mon'ser! Mon'ser! Mon'-!"
His remorseless blade came down on the man's heart.
"-serrrr…" The last of his breath slurred out, blood seeping out of his body like streams before culminating in a river as the shower's water continuously flushed the red liquid away.
Squall mechanically withdrew his blade before reaching into the cabinet above the sink where a large flask of ethanol sat.
'A monster, huh? That makes… forty-two now.' Squall thought to himself darkly, rinsing his revolver with the running water before tapping it dry.
'These types aren't very creative with their insults…' He dipped a clean paper towel into the antibacterial liquid before coating his steel, not paying much heed to the corpse beside him as murky red life continued to ooze out of the sack of flesh and bone. Taking one last inspection of his weapon and satisfied that it was thoroughly cleaned, he channeled his magick the way Bartz had shown him and the massive gunblade disappeared.
Squall glanced over at the body beside him. The blood flow had significantly lessened since it first began, but wasn't quite finished. 'Maybe another few more minutes before he is completely dry.'
A series of sharp knocks from the main door made his heart race.
'…What?' Squall's eyes narrowed as he slowly closed the tap. He glared at the entrance, his body still as a statue as he hoped it was his mind just playing tricks on him. No such luck.
A louder set of bangs reverberated through the room, each blow more insistent than the last, and Squall cautiously stalked towards the entrance, his revolver shimmering into his hand, the metal gleaming at the ready.
His mind raced with the possibilities- another assassin? The mailman? …Xu?- before his worst fears were realized.
It was her- that assuming woman.
"You in there, Leonhart?" Lightning's impatient voice called over the wall separating them, her tone not at all questioning. "You're in there, aren't you? Open the door."
Squall's eyes darted from side to side, looking for another exit. How did Lightning know he was here? Wasn't she supposed to be hanging out with the other women for the day? What in Hyne's name was she doing here? !
"Stop ignoring me!" He could actually feel her patience thinning. "I know you're in there, so open up!"
What could he do? What could he say? Maybe, maybe if he didn't speak up, she would go away thinking that she was wrong about his location.
"I saw your car parked outside, Squall. You can't fool me."
'…crap.' Squall pressed his palms against his forehead, staggering backwards as if struck. What a careless mistake! How could he make such a mistake! And because of it, she was about to find out. Leaving his car parked outsi-
'Wait a second,' A lighthouse in his head flared to life and focused his thoughts amidst the raging storm of his panic. 'I didn't-'
A final bang caused his door to tremble from the force of Lightning's fist as she delivered her ultimatum. "Squall, if you don't open the door, then I'm going to assume someone broke in. Then whoever you are, I'm coming in." Lightning's voice held a dangerous edge. "And you're not going to like me when I do."
Squall took a deep breath as he steeled himself. 'I always knew this was going to happen.' He did, Hyne, did he know. He just wished that when he did, it was by his own terms.
"I'm here, Light." Was it just him, or did his voice crack? Damn it. Damn it all!
"Well, open up then." The woman growled, and he could already imagine her crossing her arms.
"…Right." Squall approached and peeked through the peephole, hoping it was an impostor so he could run his blade through their flesh.
It really was Lightning.
"Leonhart." A warning growl came.
With a hollow click, Squall opened the door.
Already in an irritable for reasons including feeling that Squall had lied to her about moving out of his old place and his making her wait outside the door, Lightning did not like the statue of a man that opened the door; her eyes immediately narrowed as she tried to figure out what was wrong. Not even a moment later did the stench of death commandeer her senses like an unholy harbinger of perversion.
"Leonhart," Her heart pounded against her ears in shock, staring behind the man and taking in the trashed appearance. If she squinted, she could probably make out the bloodstains in the dimly lit room. Lightning's jaw clenched tightly. "What the hell did you just do?"
There was only a cold, remorseless hardness that reflected off his glacial eyes before he answered her with an equally tight edge. "My job."
Lightning's hand shot out and shoved the man aside as she barged in. Her eyes spied the gunblade still grasped in his hand as if he was preparing for battle…
…Or had just finished the deed.
She didn't know which option was better. Her eyes glared around before spotting a faint glimmer of light coming from the shower room.
The mutilated corpse she saw couldn't even be classified as coming from a human.
Lightning took deep, calming breaths as she fought down the urge to retch at the brutality before snapping towards the murderer.
Squall hadn't moved from his spot by the door, staring back at her as if everything was right and normal, as if he hadn't just massacred a man in cold blood.
"You…" She was hyperventilating now as anger and disgust built up inside of her, threatening to explode with the force of nature. "What... the hell... is all this? !"
The Commander of SeeD gazed at her coolly and spoke as if stating the obvious. "My job."
Her hands shot out, grasping the hem of his jacket before pulling him down to stare at him dead in the eyes before growling at him with barely constrained fury. "This? ! Butchering a man and tossing him in a tub? Is this your job? !"
Lightning's heart stopped when he answered neutrally.
The unadulterated disgust in her voice was palpable.
["So we meet again, my fated one."
Squall looked up at her with dead eyes as the woman floated towards him, the edges of her dress billowing without wind.
A contemplative frown marred her lips. "You are distraught."
Her arms reached out to him, only for the man to pull away.
If she felt offended by his actions, she didn't show it, and if she did, then Squall couldn't see it beyond the white brightness. He did feel petty at the small swell of pride that tapped his soul at the thought of hurting her.
"You need not control yourself, my darling." She spoke to him soothingly. "I am here, and will always be here until you cease your calling. Talk to me, my fated."
Anger flashed in his glacial eyes. "Stop that." He glowered. "I don't even know who you are."
"You do, my darling." He supposed he should rebuke her remark, but the familiarity he felt spoke otherwise. "You do know who I am, but choose only not to accept. You were never averse to acknowledging me before, so I wonder; why now?"
"…I'm tired of your games." He truly was. Such a crippling hammer had turned his life upside-down so soon, and he was still reeling from the abrupt change.
"When have you never?" She spoke with an amusement only she understood, trailing her delicate fingertips up his arm and shoulder. Squall did not flinch; not this time. He was so very tired.
And yet, when he woke up, he wouldn't be. As soon as his eyes opened, Commander Leonhart would return, and that was fine with him. That was who he was.
SeeD Commander Squall Leonhart.
The Black Lion of Balamb and the monster stalking through the world's shadows.
"You really think of yourself as a monster?" Again, there was an amused melody in her voice as she seemed to read his thoughts. Squall's eyes snapped towards hers accusingly, wondering if the woman did have such ability. Melancholy tugged at her lips. "I know your thoughts, my lion, for we walked down similar paths. Our difference was I did it for myself."
She had his full attention now, and her melancholia warmed. "Do you know what a monster is?"
Squall's eyes pressed shut. "…A being completely devoid of morality."
"Which is precisely why you do not deserve that title." The simplicity in her voice caused his head to tilt to the side with a frown on his lips, still unconvinced by her words. Seeing this, the woman floated closer towards the warmth of his fur. "I fear for the future should my darling become a true monster. You are doing fine, my fated one."
Squall glared at her darkly. "Shut up."
She would not, for the man fate had given her needed to hear her words.
"You doubt the righteousness of your actions." One warm palm trailed southward to rest atop his beating heart. There a wry fondness seeping through her tone as she conveyed a simple truth. "Silly man, have you gone so soft and forgotten that there is no such thing as an absolute righteousness? What you have is a vision and an iron will. You believe that you are doing the world a favor; that is your arrogance."
Squall opened his mouth to defend himself but found that no words would escape him. What could he say?
"And yet," Her lips curled into a proud smile as her eyes bore deeply into his. "None can deny that you have made life easier for many a common person, and implanted a budding seed of fear into many an organization driven by their selfish greed that firmly roots them from mobilizing." She blinked curiously. "Ah, was that a pun? My apologies, I did not intend it."
She did not sound remorseful in the slightest; not to his ears anyway.
Squall leaned back as he gave her words thought, floating in the boundless expanse with his dream visitor curled against his chest with one cheek planted against the warmth of his fur collar and her moist breath against his neck.
Why was he hesitating now? Isn't this what SeeD does? Despite his attempts at selecting his targets carefully, at the end of the day he still pillaged lives. It never bothered him so much before as he sealed such introspections into a little black box to be locked away in the deepest parts of his mind, so why now?
The answer to that question dawned on him like the morning sun; Lightning Farron.
He had grown soft and lax. Squall could always be himself around the strawberry blonde woman, never having to change because she always stood there beside him; a sentinel against his demons. He trusted and confided as much as he could in her and had thus grown too reliant on her company, even though he knew what would happen should the skeleton in his closet unleash itself.
Lightning was a true soldier, and he was but a mercenary.
Maybe he should have Shiva gorge on those memories again, despite her protests at the unappetizing meal… Squall immediately dropped that thought with a blink. The entire reason he had stopped forcing such will against his Guardian Force was because he was only running from the truth, that way, and slowly transformed into the monster he was accused of being.
But, was he really not that same monster, now?
A dainty finger tapped the tip of his nose and drew her eyes down towards the bright light hiding the woman's façade.
"My darling…" She started. "Should your torment become unbearable...you always have the option of leaving SeeD."
His heart stopped.
"I would not mind if you did." There was not a trace of falsehood in her tone; only a longing that seemed eternal. "You should come with me, my fated. I will never leave you alone."
How many times had he heard that damnable phrase?
And yet… how many times did he have to believe in it?
Squall's jaw clenched. "I… will not." He spoke against the tightness of his throat. "I will continue on as SeeD."
Because he still had a purpose.
The world was just beginning, and he was one of the few that knew that truth. It was only a matter of time before the different countries would take up arms and expand their land. Even now, outlaws and bounty hunters traversed the seas, cut-throat pirates of sky and sea raided passenger cruisers in search of gold and women.
Squall was not optimistic enough to believe the countries could contain their rebels and themselves. He was one of the few that retained their memories prior to the merging of the worlds, and from that small group, one of the fewer still with the power to act and still retain his independence.
So he would continue on being a SeeD.
It was as simple as that.
"So you will not." The woman sighed- truly sighed at his passing on an opportunity. "You choose to torment yourself." She pressed her nose against his neck, her arms tightening around his shoulders. "You would continue plundering souls out of men's flesh and yet burden yourself with the weight of life for your atonement." Another breath left her lips, conveying her exasperation. "How foolish, you silly, silly man; your anguish will never bring the dead back to the living that waits for them."
"I know that." Squall's hand found the back of her head, his fingers threading through her wisps of hair. "I believe in myself." He spoke with resolute conviction. "What I am doing is right."
An amused chuckle left the woman before she pulled back. And when her light shined on his face, he could feel the depth of her affection as she remarked. "That is another thing I find so endearing about you, my foolish lion. Your unyielding determination and conviction, disregarding all else even as you walk against the moral compass of others'…" A feather-light touch traced his scar. "…even though the glass of your own compass is fogged with ambiguity." She leaned forward against him, and as their foreheads kissed, Squall could hear a dry amusement in her voice as if she was recalling an old memory. "It is of no consequence; nothing has changed. I am still tied to you, my fated man, so you will never be without company."
"…" His thumb found the bridge of her nose and traced across her raised zygoma, high as an aristocrat's, to rest on the exposed process, his palm cupping her cheek. The woman leaned in towards his touch and for a moment, Squall thought he saw her eyes close in tranquil bliss. "…Thanks."
"Hmm…" She hummed thoughtfully. "Would you answer my question, then?" At his muddled stare, she reminded. "Why do you deny my existence now, my fated man, when you so fervently pursued me previously?"
His lips thinned and she could feel it from the man's body; his subconscious was ignoring the familiarity of her presence.
Withdrawing from his fur and neck, the phantom floated backwards, her measuring eyes tracing the man's every contour. "If I were to hazard a guess, will you grant me the decency of either a denial or an affirmation?"
She waited, patiently, for she had all the time in the world, for the man to decide. His stiff posture deflated and she let out a pleased smile before stating her guess. "You feel that you do not deserve to see me, after all that you have done."
Squall's eyelids shut painfully when her words hit their mark.
"We have hurt each other, darling." Her hands replaced their spot on his neck and cheek, drawing him in with her seriousness. "But we are better now. And… I have forgiven you." She pressed his head against the fur of her collar, threading her fingers through the brown locks of his hair. "And so… you have to forgive yourself, my darling lion."
Her familiar warmth was too inviting, and in his weakness, Squall found himself trapped in her embrace.
"I can't… not yet."
"I know. But I have all the time in the world."]
Squall opened his eyes, his pupils quickly adjusting to the dim light cast by the moon, before directing his stare at the digital clock sitting across his bed.
With a sigh, he turned to his side and was unsurprised that Lightning was not there with him.
Throwing his duvet aside and picking himself off the mattress, the SeeD Commander made his way to his bathroom and retrieved a flask containing pure ethanol- one he normally used for cleaning purposes- from the cabinet underneath his sink. Squall then made his way to the kitchen and, after grabbing a fresh, clean pitcher and his jar of sugar, began to make his drink.
Squall's blue eyes absently trailed to the clear jar on the kitchen counter containing a darkened powder- the ashes of the father he had murdered- and made another mental note to follow-up his contact in the morning if he was able to deliver the man's daughter to the nearest hospital.
Raising a glass towards the sealed jar, Squall nodded his head before downing the inebriating fluid.
He really was unsurprised that Lightning didn't return to him.
A week had gone by since they last spoke. Xu had arrived that morning after to take the visiting Brigadier General's luggage before departing with a reassuring pat on his shoulder and an admonishing word about his drinking habit. He crossed paths with her, once, during a stormy night as he made his way back to his apartment and she was strolling down the street.
Lightning ignored him, easily enough.
He had scattered his would-be assassin's remains into the wind overlooking the ocean, and confirmed that the man's daughter was on the way to a full recovery, and would be ready for pick-up in two weeks' time. Squall chose not to comment on how the hospital the girl was admitted in attempted to extract as much money from his budget as they could; the girl was little more than an illegal alien as far as the hospital was concerned, and SeeD wasn't hard-pressed for money, what with all the missions he had poured the wandering mercenary faction in within the past two years by drilling every available hand to the bone. The hospital was reputable for their healthcare, so Squall was assured that the girl, Doreen, would be well taken care of.
None of his friends made any mention of Lightning and her whereabouts, and Squall didn't bother with asking. He understood where the woman was coming from when she hissed her accusations and he squashed the childish voice in his head that wanted to lash out at the older soldier.
It would be nice to say that Squall was broken and disconcerted; that his week flew by in despondency.
But it didn't.
As expected, Squall's week came and went as normal. Business resumed as normal. Squall read and filed his paperwork, and oversaw the cadets as they trained for the next SeeD Exam.
His visitor would still occupy his nights, whispering sweet nothings in his ear as she beckoned him towards her, and Squall continued to shoot her advances down. More often than not, Squall would brew his drink as he would awaken in odd hours of the night, but would still be fresh for work once the sun rose albeit with a slight yet distinct hint of alcohol in his breath.
And it was while he sat in his office, brewing his next batch during his break from paperwork, when the familiar ding of the elevator drew his attention to the calculating form of Brigadier General Farron as she strode into the room.
Her eyes swept through the neat and tidy office, appraising every article before coming to a rest on Commander Leonhart. Squall calmly sealed the bottle he was using before expertly mixing it as he returned to his seat, pouring a glass for himself before turning his full attention to the strawberry blonde soldier whose scrutinizing eyes never stopped following him.
They stared at each other, studying each other with schooled features before Squall took a sip and decided to start; he still had work to finish so they couldn't stay like this for the whole day.
"Is there something you want?" He asked pointedly, feeling the liquid trail the all-too familiar burning sensation down his throat.
Lightning folded her arms. "I never handed in the file."
"…" Squall continued to stare, his patience thinning. It was probably the drink getting to him. "…Well?" He ushered her into motion, trying to get her to hand in whatever Pulse wanted and leave.
Lightning pursed her lips, her eyes glaring at the glass on his table. "You should stop that. Drinking excessively isn't a good habit."
His eyebrow twitched before scowling. "Were you reading my file again?"
"You forget who I was with the entire week."
"Hmph." Squall grunted. He still needed to talk to Xu about her issues in keeping private information private. "Noted." His elbows pressed against the table as he rested his chin on his hands, his eyes glaring up at her. "Now, the files?"
A tense second passed before Lightning's hand shot out and secured his glass before ungraciously throwing her head back downing everything in one fluid motion. Squall broke out of his stance in angry surprise. "What are-!"
The glass slamming down on the desk cut him off.
"This tastes like shit." Lightning growled out, clicking her tongue once in an attempt to get rid of the taste. "You must really be shaken up, Leonhart, if you can't even tell that." There was none of the natural sweetness associated to such a drink; the damn thing tasted too processed that it lacked any flavor.
Lightning glared down on him. "Do you regret killing him?"
Squall, having composed himself from the shock of Lightning's unpredictability, returned her glare. "No." He was serious. "If the same situation happened again, I wouldn't change anything."
To her credit, Lightning did not back down from his eyes nor flinch at the gravity of his words.
"I read his file." She started, drawing another displeased frown from the SeeD Commander. "That man was an assassin with a track record dating some twenty years back. He amassed a sizeable body count within that time, including what appear to be entire bloodlines."
Squall folded his arms in irritation; Lightning had merely stated what he already knew. Xu really had a lot of explaining to do. "Your point?"
"This doesn't make what you did any less pleasant." She slammed her other hand down the table, scattering the piles of paper in her wake. "You still murdered a father and created an orphan. Was this the reason you worked hard to push for that agreement with all the countries?"
Whatever happens to Seed, remains in SeeD, to be resolved by SeeD.
It was an agreement that allowed SeeD to function as a mercenary group acknowledged by every country. It allowed them to operate without instigating war between nations, no matter who their contractor was. Gaining the approval of the various kingdoms and governments was a difficult task but one Squall had accomplished through a combination of negotiation and underhanded tactics, gaining and using favors from various people of considerable political, inspirational, and economical power.
It was by far the greatest achievement Squall had.
As long as none of SeeD's activities could be legally traced back to them, then they had free reign to annihilate their targets. All paperwork was completely destroyed once the deal was made; missions were accepted in person. And should their contractors overcome their fear or just out of plain stupidity decide to turn against them, for SeeD could just as easily turn the table against their accuser, they wouldn't be able to stand witness and testify- the Guardian Forces made sure of that.
"Yes." Squall answered her question neutrally.
Lightning's eyes squeezed shut before she banged her fist on the table, and Squall's jaw clenched painfully before speaking.
"I won't stop." Lightning's eyes were baleful as she glared at him. "This is what SeeD is for, now. Though I'm sure Xu has told you already." Her silence was his confirmation. "I'll continue with my methods. If," His throat tightened; this was it. "If we remain together, then you will be exposed to more of this."
The darkness of the world's heart that ate away at the innocent.
Or was there anything innocent in the first place?
"…You don't have to do this, Squall." Her features softened considerably. Squall's heart ached at the pained looked Lightning gave him. "If it's about you growing up a soldier, then come with me back to Pulse. The Guardian Corps won't mind having you." Squall's face remained unreadable, and Lightning tried another angle. "What about relegating Garden to Balamb's military?"
It was a weak alternative, she knew, but was nonetheless aggravated at Squall's lack of a reaction.
"…It's alright, Lightning." He finally spoke, tilting his head away from the aggravated woman. "I'll be alright."
A powerful fist planted itself on his cheek, forcing his gaze back on Lightning as she quickly reached over his desk to grasp his collar and pull the stunned man over his scattered papers.
"Oh, I'm not worried about you Squall." Lightning's tone was sharp. "Why should I? It's always been about you." Her angry face filled his vision. "You choosing this life. You choosing not to tell me. You choosing to leave me. Well, guess what I think of your lousy choices?"
She slammed his temple against his desk, and through his growing concussion, Squall idly wondered how it didn't give way.
Squall's scalp sang hymns of protest as Lightning drew the dazed man back up.
The fire in her eyes had not dissipated.
"Ask me what I want, Squall."
Blinking the black spots swimming in his vision, Squall complied with a curious groan. "…What do you want?"
"I want you." Lightning replied truthfully. Squall's heart missed a beat. "I want you, and I want you to talk to me. I want you to not hide anything from me. And…" Lightning closed her eyes as their foreheads kissed. "I want you to stay with me."
"Light…" He started, taken aback by the emotion in her voice. His gloved hand unconsciously crept over his desk to rest atop hers, the simple action conveying his sorrow and attempt to comfort her.
With her eyes still shut, she prodded his thoughts. "Squall, ask me what the contents of the letter is."
The hand grasping his head left to dig into the pocket of her coat before handing him… nothing.
"Commander Squall has been binge drinking himself silly. He will kill himself at this rate." She whispered against his lips, not bothering to mask her displeasure.
It was clear that someone had prompted Lightning's arrival.
Squall's brows knit in confusion. "That doesn't make sense. You said-"
"That this visit was a spur-of-the-moment thing." Lightning finished his sentence, revealing her brilliant aquamarines shimmering with fond remembrance. "I came as soon as I heard Squall. I didn't know what brought this on nor how damaged you were to be driven to drink." She bared her heart to him. "I didn't know anything, Squall, and that upset me. I hate it when the people I love keep secrets from me as if my opinion doesn't matter."
It was his turn to share his heart to her. "I was worried. I thought you'd leave me when you found out the truth." A small frown formed on his lips. "You did in a way."
Lightning drew her head back before lightly smacking their heads together. "I freaked alright?" He could feel the inviting warmth radiating off her face; Lightning's skin burned with her displeasure at admitting her weakness but she supposed that if one of them had to act the adult in their relationship, then it had to be her, and so she continued albeit grudgingly. "It was too sudden. I didn't know how to react."
"Hyne," Squall gasped out in defeat.
He would have sunk into his desk too had Lightning not been there to support his weight.
"I thought this was it. I thought," The desperation in his voice made her heart flutter; he was finally opening up completely. "I thought you were leaving me."
"You stubborn idiot, what do you think I'm here for?" She withdrew from his heat with a small smile. "And here I thought you've changed. You're still the same." Squall slowly sank back in his seat as Lightning adjusted her clothes. "When will you learn that no matter what, I will always be with you?"
Didn't that heartache born of his possessive jealousy teach him anything at all?
She raised one knee before planting it over his desk, scattering the forgotten pieces of paper as she leaned forwards towards him. "You can't push me away, Squall. I'll just keep coming right back at you. It might…" She bit her lower lip, her pride making her falter before she continued. "It might take me some time, but I will. Just like now."
"Promise me, Squall." Her eyes flashed at him seriously. "I need to hear you say it this time. Promise that you will never hide anything from me again."
It didn't need any thinking. For some reason, Squall found that he could speak easily, this time. "I promise, Lightning."
Squall had a split second to register her brilliant smile before Lightning closed the distance between their lips, almost falling on him despite her hands stabilizing her until he pushed back. Their kiss wasn't passionate and lustful; it was merely a sweet kiss and one full of promise.
Lightning finally pulled back and was pleased at what she saw. It was as if Squall was reborn; all the darkness that hanged around him seemed to vanish. It may return again, maybe sooner than she could anticipate, but it was gone for now, and she would be ready for when it returned.
Much more ready.
She let out a huff. "You really are such an idiot, Squall."
His eye twitched; Squall had already lost count how many times she kept calling him that. "What is it now?"
"Xu pointed it out to me, and it makes me wonder how messed up you really are." Despite having her arms folded, Lightning's tone was light and not at all condescending. "You don't gag your victims so that you can hear their dying words as a final respect, even though their words torment you."
"Are you teaching me how to kill?" It felt odd talking to her about this, but not at all unwelcome.
Lightning glared at him half-heartedly. "Shut up. I'm just saying that you don't have the right to angst about their words."
"…I know." He knew.
She shook her head.
"…And yet you still do…" She brushed her pink locks out of her eye contemplatively. "You're not a hero. You're not a patriot. You don't kill for any country out of loyalty." Lightning listed out. "You're a murderer." There was no disgust in her voice, this time, though Lightning felt that description wasn't quite right. A frown crossed her features before realization dawned on her. "No…You're a crusader; killing for your beliefs."
Squall could only give a small nod. "…I am SeeD."
A wry smile was on her lips as she agreed with him. "So you are. Squall," She cleared her throat, her voice resuming its commanding quality when she once again spoke. "Squall… I want to see your every mission detail."
A moment of awkward silence passed as they stared at each other blankly.
Squall raised his brow, though his eyes were devoid of amusement. "Come again?"
"I want you to run every possible mission that specifically involves the loss of life from any race by me before you accept." Lightning repeated firmly whilst standing on the opposite end of the table.
The edge of Squall's lip twitched in annoyance; that was a long list, given the state of their vast world. Egoistical mages, power-hungry generals, corrupt politicians- everything was so cliche that it wasn't even funny. Regardless, the more upstanding members of each country's ruling body hired SeeD to do their dirty work discreetly so that the country's, and more importantly, their image wouldn't be sullied.
And Lightning wanted to go over private details before he stamped his approval. Did he want her approval?
Damn. He wanted her acceptance.
He glanced over at her again, and groaned inwardly when she adopted her patented stance of defiance, her arms folded while staring at him hard. There was just no winning against her.
Squall spoke reluctantly, and Lightning knew she had him. "... That will take a lot of time."
Lightning placed her hands on his desk, leaning over his papers as her face approached his, stopping just as their lips were about to meet. Squall made a passable impression of a cactuar about to be run over.
"You're the Commander of SeeD." Her voice was velvet, her scent was intoxicating. Her lips curled upwards in a smirk. "Make time."
Squall swallowed the lump in his throat discreetly before speaking. "This is hardly a compromise."
She pressed her forehead against his, blue eyes shimmering in amusement. "You're right. This is an order."
Lightning doesn't compromise.
And so with a defeated sigh, Squall conceded to the bossy woman's demands.
Squall also found that his paperwork was as good as forgotten, considering the mess they made as Lightning crawled over to his seat. He also found that he didn't mind, not when he could finally open up to Lightning completely.
The pink-haired woman, his partner, his Lightning was here to stay.
That evening, Lightning had made him swear off excessive binges of alcohol and only to drink in her presence; he didn't mind, not anymore, and especially not when she curled up beside him underneath those warm blankets.
They talked about anything all the way til dawn, their light drinking of the proper stuff loosening their tongues and lips.
And they talked without withholding any secrets.
The familiar ding heralded the arrival of the brunette, who stopped in front of his desk with a practiced salute.
"You called for me, Commander Leonhart?"
Squall read the fine print one last time before filing it in a green folder. It was gaining quite a lot of weight, so he might have to personally deliver it to Lightning soon. He didn't mind the journey to Pulse, for Lightning always made it worth his while.
But that was a daydream for another time.
"At ease, Xu." Squall addressed one of his most trustworthy Seeds, whose posture instantly relaxed at his words. "I want to thank you."
Xu's eyes twinkled knowingly. "Ah, so you two did make up in the end. Or should I say," A mischievous smile split her face. "Made out? Tell me Squall, how is your head?"
It was funny how Squall didn't feel surprised that she knew about that. Nevertheless, there was a reason why he had called her today and so he cleared his throat.
"…Xu, Lightning told me everything."
The woman didn't look at all surprised by his admission. "I won't deny anything."
"You planned this." Squall pointed out.
"Hmhmm…" She hummed with an agreeing nod.
"It was you that parked my car that day." Squall continued, critically observing for the woman's reactions. "You planned on Lightning finding out."
"She had to understand what we really do as SeeDs." Xu remarked calmly.
"…You also anticipated she would return."
At this, a mysterious smile made its way across her face as she gave a small nod. "I know you all too well, and so I know her."
Squall pressed his eyes shut together before asking the million gil question. "…Why?"
"Why what, my Commander?" She folded her arms, resting her cheek against her palm. "Why bring her here for her to find out?" Squall nodded and blinked at the tranquility in her eyes. "The answer should be obvious, Squall: to rid you of the brooding that drove you to drink."
If Xu noticed that Squall was taken aback by her simple answer, then she didn't show it as she continued explaining, placing her hands on her lap.
"Quistis has tried her best, but with your head thicker than a Ruby Dragon's hide, how else are we get to you but by hiring a dragon slayer?"
A twitch on Squall's brow made the young woman giggle before waving it off.
"Fine, I shall be serious. We all worry about you, Squall." Xu spoke meaningfully, placing a hand against her heart. "We know that you are struggling with your conscience- we all are, but only you refuse to open up. Your weekly evaluations confirm you are within normal ranges- that you don't have any sociopathic tendencies- but we still worry." Her eyes glittered with their trademark amusement. "I daresay; there is still a trace of that rebellious teenager in you. And though it pains me, I knew I had to rely on Lightning, for she is the only one that can get to you."
Squall didn't know what to make out of that admission. "Xu…?"
"It must have been nice." She stared into his eyes with a wistful gaze. "That world where the two of you met, I mean."
What did she mean? It was a question Squall needn't ponder for long because Xu quickly recomposed herself, staring at him with the seriousness becoming of the bearers of the insignia of SeeD.
"So yes, I admit to everything. I did plant the idea in Lightning's head to visit you, I did drop hints for Lightning to suspect you, I did allow her to see firsthand how you operate, and I did all of this knowing that she will continue to accept you regardless."
Xu continued onwards, prepared for the gravity of her actions to pummel her into the ground. "I will accept any punishment you deem fit, Commander Leonhart."
Squall took in a deep breath. "…One thing first: how did you know all this would happen?"
A familiar chime of amusement rang in her voice. "Silly man... That is an easy question. To quote a certain man's deadpan; when does Xu not know anything?"
"…" Squall sank back in his seat, finding that he could not counter that logic. He inwardly thanked his good fortune that this woman was his accomplice; she would have made for a terrifying adversary otherwise. "…Very well." He reached into one of the many drawers in his desk and retrieved a labeled folder. "Here are the details of your punishment."
Xu accepted the file with a nod before skimming through the print. "Ah, more reconnaissance? Oh wait, there's more…" she mumbled to herself. Squall basked in the growing surprise in her features as she read onwards, feeling satisfied that he had done something she didn't predict. "…hrmm… Oh! Squall?"
"Make sure you deliver your report securely." He confirmed with a small, grateful smile. "Then you can enjoy your break after. I do expect you to report for duty at the end of the month."
"A paid vacation." She muttered to herself in disbelief. It was a dream come true considering just how hard Squall had worked her within the past two years. Xu smiled coyly at her commander. "My, do you know how to work a girl, Commander Squall." A wistful sigh escaped her lips. "Such a pity though; I was hoping my punishment would involve candlelight and wax, a bit of leather, topped with a good, new-aged flogging from my superior officer but I guess this is good enough."
Squall didn't know how to respond to that, unable to tell if the woman was serious or not behind her mysterious smile.
["So we meet again, my fated one." He felt a familiar pair of arms circle around his chest. "And I see that your spirit has returned. Tell me, did something good happen, perhaps?"
He turned towards her before stating simply but not at all coolly. "I am not alone."
"Ah…" The woman thought to herself, her yellow eyes not betraying the pang of displeasure she felt. "So you are not; so she has embraced you." She sighed. "A pity. But it begs one to wonder how long will your happiness last? How long before she will once more strike a dagger deep into your heart?"
Squall shook his head at her. "You talk too much. Disagreeing, fighting, forgiving, and accepting; these moments create the bonds that tie people together." He told her that simple truth. "Lightning has accepted me, and that is enough."
"You find absolution in the arms of such an impulsive woman?" She made no effort to show what she thought of such words. "Laughable; she does not understand you as well as I, my fated."
"She doesn't have to," Squall pointed out and a fond smile crossed his face. "But she tries to anyway."
"Yes, she does indeed." Even she could not deny Lightning that. "Such a stubborn woman; it vexes yet intrigues me how she is so much like you, and yet I still am irritated by her." She extricated her arms from the warmth his body gave and began floating away from him slowly, her red velvet dress dancing with an unfelt wind. "Very well, I shall let this matter slide. Know this, though, my lion, my chosen knight; my offer still does stand." A thought flittered through her mind and she decided to throw him an encouraging piece of information. "One more thing, you can put your mind at ease that your actions have created a wondrous world… even though you could not live long enough to see it."
Squall wasn't plussed by the ominous words. "I don't mind." A long-life wasn't the objective of his mission.
The woman threw her hands upward, her body trembling with a joke as she explained. "My darling, is it not funny how fate works?" she brought her hands together in front of her, staring at him longingly. "You and I are so very close, tied together by her unbreakable thread, and yet whenever my hands are about to grasp your essence, you would slip away like grains of desert sand."
There was a twinge in her voice calling out to him.
"You are overthinking it." He pointed out plainly. "I am your anchor, and you are mine, nothing more. Before, you spoke about forgiving me…" Squall took her outstretched hand in his, staring into her glimmering eyes truthfully. "… I have forgiven you, too, but that hasn't changed both our pasts."
"Ah, such a pity." She really felt it was as she caressed his knuckles, unwilling to let go. "If you had accepted my offer, then I would bring you here to live with me."
"I have work to do." Always the professional. "We have both been given a second chance. Don't let it go to waste."
The woman withdrew her hands from his and patted her dress, having made her own resolution.
"Very well. Know that I still have yet to give up. We are fated- tied to each other- and thus you shall be mine in only a matter as simple as time. Until we meet again."
Squall nodded at her. "Until we meet again… Ultimecia."
The time Sorceress blinked in surprise, the realization of what his recognizing her meant setting her heart ablaze, unshed tears brimming in her eyes, before she finally gathered the strength to tell him softly. "…Silly man... my name is Artemis."
"Hnn…" Squall committed it to memory before adding as an afterthought. "Try not to give her such a hard time."
"Darling, you are admonishing the victim." She quipped at him dryly.
"It is she who needs to control her tactless energy."]
A/N: This beast is finally finished! Flipping heck, I spent a lot on this ~_~ I would greatly appreciate anybody dropping corrections on this. Grammar, spelling, broken sentences- did I use my semicolons correctly? I know I butcher the English language a lot and tend to send linguists crying. Lulz also for super-rushed ending.
And, hey look, I managed to write this without using any flashbacks. Also, oh dear and oh my, did I spoil LTRA?
It needs to be stressed again. In Traingham's word, 'Xu is a magnificent bastard'. Do not cross her! Anyway, I tried to keep everyone in character even though one of them is blatantly ooc and the story-length. Orz
Yes, that's the current accepted basic alcohol metabolism pathway. About 40% of people of Chinese descent carry one allele coding for a mutated mitochondrial acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2), which causes acetaldehyde to build up, which is why they flush quite quickly.
Disulfiram, also known as Antabuse, is currently being used to 'treat' alcoholism and cocaine addiction. It's more of a mental negative feedback that intervenes with the physiological craving; it mimics the symptoms of a compromised ALDH2, leading people to be wary of drinking, or at the very least feel too ill to even think of having a pint.
Xi/SL/whoever you are, why did you write this monster instead of updating LTRA?
That…is a very good question, and I'm sure someone can think up an equally good answer. Off the top of my head: I'm still surfing around for inspiration. Yes, I know- supporting a rare couple bites. I also realized that I needed to type this down otherwise that harem smutfest will never be written. Regarding Aya's fic, I already made a start on it before the poll closed, so when the results came as they did, I took a step back and proceeded to scratch the top of my head before deciding to screw it and type.
On a previous note, it seems there actually is a Squall/Lightning doujin circulating around somewhere among the many other more 'canon' pairings. Or rather, was. I tried checking toranoana, but I couldn't find it, or maybe I need to take the moonrune elective. Google couldn't find anything as usual, so I gave up.
Heh. C'est la vie~!
Now, watch me throw a petty fit at the people adding this to their favorites list without taking a few seconds to review~