A/N: Last chapter, people. Once this one is over with, I'll be starting a new fic so look for it, or whatever…. Oh, yeah, and to Seeifer's Incarnate that reviewed chapter 11 just this morning… if you have such a damn problem with my lemon, go write your own instead of criticizing other's!
"Dead on the Inside I've got nothing to prove
Keep me alive and give me something to lose
Goodbye this time
--- Foo Fighters "Come Back"
Life is the strangest thing… no matter how hard you try to comprehend it, you can never understand.
She tilted her head back, exposing her neck to his demanding kisses. Both their shirts had been discarded and now lay wrinkled upon the floor, forgotten in the rush of pleasure and excitement that washed over their bodies as they began to engage in this act of love. Each kiss was gentle, like the brush of a feather across one's skin, and his hands upon her body was like the caress of warm velvet.
You walk the earth in a gray daze of ignorance and loneliness, seeing nothing but the path set out before you until something comes along… just one little thing that makes you feel like you've never felt before. Like seeing the world for the first time… I may have regained my sight after death, but I never really saw a damn thing until her.
She was completely exposed now, her pale flesh taking on a rosy tint as she was left flushed and breathless by the things he did to her. Strong but careful hands pulled her close and held her with love, and adoration while soft lips teasingly grazed her stomach. She writhed beneath his tender assault on her angelic form, which he searched over every inch of it with his eyes.
Just when you think you have the slightest grasp on things… just when you think you've found your salvation, it's torn from you, and you're plunged into a world of darkness once more. It's so cruel… so painful. I thought I knew the answers, now I don't know what to believe.
Her body trembled wildly against his, her desperate moans entwining with the rumbling of his growls and creating a melody that only they could ever share. With every split second that passed they grew closer to their sacred destination, a culmination of every emotion that waited to be revealed. That night was the night he told her he loved her, the night he opened his soul to her, after such a long time of keeping himself locked away from the world. As she clung to his body, eyes crushed shut and lips parted in a final cry of ecstasy, he would never have guessed that it was the last night they'd ever have together.
Nothing can replace the time we had together, and no matter what, it was still worthwhile. But how can I ever let go? How can I live, how can I be human now, without her? All these questions, no hope for an answer… Laguna will pay for this with everything he has.
"Are you sure he's okay?"
Sharp, pale blue eyes turned to face the speaker, burning holes through his flesh for making such a thoughtless inquiry. "What kind of stupid question is that? Of course he's not alright," she hissed. "Would you be 'alright' if you were him?"
He shrugged. "It was just a question," he whispered back.
Quistis shot another disgusted look in Zell's direction before turning her attention back to Squall. They stood at the front doors of the old stone chapel they'd visited only once before. Squall had lain Rinoa on the steps leading up to the alter, and was kneeling next to her, with his back turned to his silent companions. He had been this way for quite a while, every now and then reaching out to stroke his lover's face. Her skin was cold and pale as porcelain, the life having seeped from her wound and stained the carpet of the church. Her dark, shimmering locks made a perfect frame for her face, and spread over her shoulders like small raven wings. She never looked more angelic that at that very moment.
Slowly, as if afraid of the reaction she might receive, Quistis walked quietly over to Squall, and tapped him gently on the shoulder. "We still have to stop Laguna," she pointed out.
The soft look upon his face evaporated beneath the force of his rage. Quistis would almost have sworn that his eyes had turned black, and he'd grow seven foot tall in that single instance. She understood suddenly why he had been chosen to be the reaper. There seemed to be some kind of inner darkness working at his core that shone through his eyes like a warning that there would be no mercy in his message of death.
Before another word could be spoken, a bright light flashed through the church, and Irvine appeared in the center aisle. Squall looked to him, hope lighting up his eyes once more.
"They agreed to return your powers to you. In fact, they believe your old powers are the only thing that will be able to take down Laguna. However, you do have to give up your life in order to regain those powers. As for transferring the life force, giving your life for hers… that has yet to be decided upon."
"So I could give up my life, and gain my powers back, but the life force might go to waste?" Squall concluded.
"Basically," Irvine replied. "I don't really see any other way. I mean, giving up your life is the only chance, I'm afraid. We need your powers."
Squall turned once more, facing his fallen angel, and heaved a heavy sigh. "You're right. I don't have much choice. One way or the other, it's a risk I have to take. So, this is how it will happen. I will go to find Seifer and my mother. That's where Laguna will go next, if he isn't there already. Irvine… you'll stay here with Rinoa. Don't allow anyone to lay a finger on her. Quistis, Zell…. It doesn't matter much what you do now. Go with me, if you like, or stay here with Irvine…"
"What do you think… would be best?" Quistis asked as Squall started for the double-arched doors.
He stopped in his tracks and turned his head ever-so-slightly toward the sound of her voice, glaring at her through the corner of a silvery blue eye. "If you go, then I warn you… You may see things that may make you wish you didn't. Laguna will feel pain… he will stare into the face of terror… before the mercy of destruction claims him…"
Irvine adjusted his hat with a sigh and cocked his rifle. "Through the heart?" he asked. Upon seeing his nod, he took aim, and fired, the lead bullet piercing its intended target. He didn't turn around, not even as the blood seeped into his black trench coat and his wounded heart ceased to beat. His shoulders stiffened as he drew in his last breath, and he shook slightly as the familiar power returned to him. Were he still capable of tears, he believed he would've cried at that moment. Even if Rinoa was given life again, as he had hoped, she'd lost her power to give life… he would never again be able to feel her touch, her breath upon his neck, or her body heat pressed so closely against him. He stood still for a long moment, eyes closed as he felt her presence nearby. At least, there would still be that…
Forcing his thoughts to Laguna's destruction, he forced himself to step away from his sole reason for existence, and left her behind.
(Only for a little while)
He let the doors slam shut behind him, before closing his eyes and searching for Seifer's presence with his mind. Traveling would be a lot easier now, as he could move with the speed of thought if he were so inclined. He discovered him between Timber and F.H. just as he expected he would.
(I will make Laguna suffer…. For you, Rinoa…)
He sat beneath the shelter of a tree, the long, stiff branches shielding him from the overcast sky. In the distance, he could hear thunder rumbling through the clouds in an angry and ominous sign of things to come. Still, none of it seemed to make any difference to her. She wandered bare-foot and smiling through the grassy field, finger tips gently grazing the petals of the tall flowers as the furious winds rippled her skirt and danced in her hair. She showed no fear of the on-coming storm, but instead seemed to welcome it as a fun and exciting challenge. She seemed the picture of innocence, despite all she'd been through.
It was hard to believe that they were related. She refused even to pick the flowers, as she wanted to preserve their lives… he on the other hand, had thrown more lives away than he could remember. He suddenly wondered what she would think of him if she knew all that he'd done.
"I can't speak for her, but I know what I think of you," he heard a voice answer his thoughts from behind him.
He turned to find his rival… no, his brother standing behind him, his eyes steadily following the path of the young, care free woman that seemed so close to his heart without him ever even knowing her. "Reminds you of her, doesn't she?" Seifer asked, knowing that it was a low shot, but not caring at the moment.
Squall glared at him for such a length of time that it made Seifer begin to feel uncomfortable. "I could be furious… I could be angry. But I'm not. In fact, I pity you. Yes, she reminds me of Rinoa. And I'm glad she does. It makes it that much easier to love her, without knowing her. But you… you have never known love, and at this rate, you never will. I suppose it means nothing to you…"
Seifer wanted to laugh it off, or reply with some witty remark, but he found himself unable. "They still live, even if it's not as a mortal," he said finally.
"It doesn't matter. We know that, but their families don't. I know that imagining what kind of torment you put their loved ones through is beyond you, but you at least could have tried to consider… the kind hole of you left in their lives…"
The corners of Seifer's mouth dipped in a deep frown. "Eventually their loved ones will die as well, and then they'll know the truth," he replied defensively.
"They will never feel the touch of their loved one's hand again… they will never again shed tears in joy or pain… death isn't as bad as it may seem. But life is the greatest gift anyone could ever have, as corny it sounds."
Seifer snorted. "Did you get that out of a greeting card?"
"Whatever," Squall retorted. "Just tell me one last thing. Why did you do it in the first place?"
"For the reason I said I did. To free the world of sinners."
"Every human is a sinner. Tell me the truth."
"It is the truth. I wanted to free the world of sinners… of people like our father."
"Our father was…" Squall struggled to explain it, until Seifer interrupted him.
"Our father was corrupted by his own delusions of hate. It wasn't really our fault that our mother died, but he needed someone to place the blame on. You should know by now, that different people have different ways of grieving death. That was his. He convinced himself that it was not fate, but evil that took his love. Love is a sin, the way I look at it. If he never loved, he never would have killed us… without love, there would be no hate. Don't you understand now? His love of her life meant our death."
Squall shook his head. "If anything you produced even more Laguna's. You took from them their love… now they will find something, someone to blame. You said so yourself. Such is the course of death."
Seifer heaved another sigh. "It can't be undone now."
"No," Squall agreed. "It can't be. But it can at least be remembered and repented."
With those parting words, Squall walked away from him, with no intention of ever exchanging words with him again. Seifer would need all the quiet he could get anyway. He had many of his own demons to face. Instead, he crossed the field to where his mother stood, watching the swirling gray clouds with a look of utter fascination.
Raine turned to him with a content smile on her face. "It's a beautiful day, isn't it?"
A small smile tugged at Squall's lips. "I guess… if you like stormy days."
"I certainly do like stormy days. It reminds me of when you and Seifer were born. That… that was the last thing I remember about life," she said, only a small hint of sadness in her voice. "Any day, sunny or rainy… any day is wonderful to me. Does that seem strange to you?"
Squall studied the gentle smile upon her face before replying. "No, that doesn't seem strange at all."
Her smile grew, but then faded slightly as she stared into the eyes of her son. "Your face shows no emotion, but your eyes are clouded with agony. You miss her? Well, of course you do. That's a dumb question." She considered for a moment then opened her arms to the helpless looking man in front of her. He watched her for a long moment before finally moving closer and allowing her to embrace him.
"You know what I have to do to him, right?" Squall asked quietly.
She nodded, her frail body trembling. "I know. I understand. I can't imagine anything harder, than to be caught between your soul mate, and your children. But he took your life, and the life of the woman you loved. He caused my babies pain… he's not the same man I knew before, and I can't allow him to continue to cause you pain. I'll always have my memories of him, at least."
"Memories…" Squall murmured, briefly closing his eyes. Is that truly all he would have left of Rinoa now?
"It's not so bad," he heard her say. "Life is built of memories, after all."
(Is that why she saw my memories so often? Every time she breathed another ounce of life into me, she saw into my past. Is that why?)
Raine tightened her grip on him. "He's coming," she rasped out in a pained whisper. "I believe that as soon as he is gone, and I know that you and Seifer are no longer in danger, that I will pass on, as you said. So… this may be the last time we see each other for a long time. I know your job will keep you busy."
Squall frowned. "You know about that?"
She nodded. "Seifer told me. Don't worry, it's not like I disapprove or anything. Everyone must go at some point. They should at least be taken from earth by someone who understands the cycle of life and death, and the pain it brings. Who knows… maybe we will see each other again. Maybe you'll get to see Rinoa, though I know that the chances are slim. Until we see each other again, though… remember that though I've only truly known you for a short time, I love you very much."
Squall took a deep breath, and decided he would do what Rinoa would've wanted him to do. He opened up. "I love you, mom…"
Raine nodded, wishing that she could release her joy in shimmering tears. "I must go say goodbye to Seifer now… be strong, Squall."
Squall watched as she left him behind, climbing up the hill to the tree where Seifer sat. His attention was suddenly drawn elsewhere, however, as he felt the presence of Rinoa's murderer. Laguna stepped into the open field, a wicked grin twisting his face into something unrecognizable to his former wife.
"Step aside, Squall," he said, taking a few steps toward him. I'm going to bring Raine back to me."
Squall stood tall in his path. "You killed her… you killed her to achieve a dream that could never be…"
Laguna stopped and narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean by that?"
"Your dream will never be reality… I won't let it. You're not the man she loved anymore. She won't go with you. You allowed yourself to be corrupted, turned to the darkness. This is the end of your line."
For a moment, Squall would almost have sworn he saw a glimmer of sadness and remorse in the darkly sinister eyes of his father, but it was gone just as fast as it came. "She was a beautiful girl, you know," he responded in sick humor. "She would've made the perfect whore for you."
Laguna began to walk away, the rumble of his laughter matching the sound of the thunder. He was completely confident that his mission would be fulfilled. After all, he was already dead, what more could possibly happen? And even still, he left his son rooted to the spot, eyes closed and shoulders stiffened. He supposed it was in an attempt to keep from crying like a baby.
Suddenly, a streak of lightening cracked the sky, and he turned just in time to see his son's eyes snap open. No longer where they the clear, heavenly blue that they'd been since childhood, but his eyes now took on a murderous red glow.
Laguna forced a smirk on to his face. "That's a neat little trick. Is it supposed to scare me into submission?"
"There will be no mercy…" Squall growled out in a voice that he never would've thought could be his. He slowly raised a gloved hand to the stricken Laguna.
The sky seemed to pulse with the pounding of an angry heart. Squall could almost feel the thumping within his chest where his heart had once been. The wind picked up, thrashing everything in the area with a ferocity that mirrored the angered reaper perfectly. Nothing would be spared… no regret would be felt. The sun had faded from his life and now the blackness was quickly closing in. Nothing would be saved… not even himself.
The clouds swirled in a circle, the center churning right above Squall's head, as cracks formed in the ground, ripping apart the earth between him and the source of his hatred with a roaring cry like that of a damned soul. Black tendrils reached up from the glowing crimson light that shown from within the crevasses in the ground and wrapped themselves firmly around Laguna's limbs, holding him tightly in the true grip of death himself. Laguna's seemingly living captors lurched forward, bringing their prisoner closer and closer to his punisher. Squall would not only destroy him… he would devour his soul.
Laguna was close now. So close that Squall could sense both the fear and evil pouring from him. He narrowed his eyes as he felt the demented specter pass through his body, and disappear from existence. Their souls seemed to meld into one, and visions passed before Squall's eyes.
He saw a young woman, with long brow hair clearing off a table in a pub before slowly raising her eyes to meet with his until he felt butterflies in his stomach, and heat spread over his face. He now watched the same girl running and laughing in a field of flowers, as he felt a feeling that brought one name to mind.
In the distance he heard the screaming of babies, but kept his eyes locked on the tired eyes of the woman before him, until they closed for the last time. An over-whelming anguish filled his heart, and once again, a single name came to mind. He kept watching, as time sped away, until he was standing over the body of a fallen man, a smoking rifle in his arms. There was a crazy sense of justice, as well as a feeling of deep remorse that begged to be set free from it's oppression. That regret had been suppressed so long, that eventually it faded away, leaving only hatred and a vague uncertainty in its place.
Now, hands fumbled for a pistol that was hidden within a drawer. He climbed out of his bed and stumbled into the bathroom, before peering into the cracked mirror. Long, black tangles on hair fell in his face, and blood shot eyes stared into the reflective glass. He was seeing through Laguna's eyes…
(All the feelings he felt… how could they be the same as what I'm feeling now? Could it be… that if I give in to my hatred now, I will become exactly what I despise most?)
He heard her voice calling his name desperately. She wanted to stop him…
An almost painful jolt wracked his body, and suddenly he was aware of the rain pelting his skin, and of the burning inside his chest…
(Right where my heart used to be.)
Another jolt ran through him, and he exhaled, a puff of blue, smoke-like substance escaped from his lips. It made a terrible screeching sound as it was drawn into the cracks of the ground, where the now freed soul would await the judgment of a higher power.
(I let him free… for you, Rinoa…)
It was raining over Deling City when everyone gathered inside the chapel where Irvine, Quistis, and Zell had guarded Rinoa. As was expected, Raine had disappeared after Laguna's soul had been taken. Now, it was back down to the regular group.
A bright, white light appeared in the center of the room again, and from it stepped a cheerful, smiling face accompanied by a hair-do that defied gravity. "Hi, everyone! I'm Selphie Tilmitt, Squall's administrator. Now that your mission has been completed, more or less, I have final orders for each of you. Shiva, Ifrit, you two have earned yourselves a worry free vacation on earth… in a human body. You have two weeks of carefree human fun to enjoy, starting now! Irvine, you're to be starting a new mission immediately. You'll come back with me. Zell… Congratulations! You earned your wings!"
"Wow, and I didn't even really have to do anything!" Zell exclaimed, getting excited.
"Yep, but we gave you your wings anyway," Selphie replied. "Okay, let's see… Seifer…. You've got about half a century of purgatory ahead. But don't worry, it'll go by pretty fast, if you behave. Quistis… have a good life! And finally, Squall," Selphie sighed before continuing. "It seems that the big guy upstairs would like to see you."
"Is he in trouble?" Seifer asked.
"I don't know, honestly."
"And Rinoa?" Squall asked, his voice choking slightly as he gazed upon his angel.
"I don't know anything about that, either, I'm afraid. I just have my orders to pass down to you. Come on everyone."
Irvine, Zell, and Seifer followed Selphie into the portal she created. Squall paused just outside the portal and looked to Shiva and Ifrit. "You two… watch after her, until I return."
"But what if…" Ifrit began but trailed off a Shiva elbowed him in the stomach.
"Go ahead, don't worry about a thing," Shiva said, nodding for Squall to go on.
Squall took a deep breath and entered through the portal, feeling it close behind him. He found himself once more in the blank white lobby that had seemed so familiar before. Selphie walked over to him, smiling gently in an attempt to lighten his spirits. "I have some good news. They've decided to restore Rinoa's life."
Squall eyes widened, and he laughed in relief. "She's gonna be alright… then we can be…"
"I hate to burst your bubble," Selphie interrupted, "but I don't want you to get you hopes up, only to have them crushed. You have to meet with the big guy first…"
"I… I may not ever get see her again," Squall realized.
"I'm sure things will be fine," Selphie offered. "Now just take the elevator up to the top floor. They're expecting you."
Squall did as he was told, trudging wearily to the elevator and taking it up to the top floor. He hated to admit it, but he really was scared. What was to become of him now? He had done so many things wrong. At least, he decided, Rinoa would be all right. Even if he never got to see her again, at least she had another chance at life.
The elevator doors slid open as the high-pitched 'ding' signaled his arrival. With a heavy spirit he crossed the mostly empty lobby, pausing at the small desk near the huge double-arched doors. Upon the young girls nod, he pushed the doors open, waiting until he heard them slam shut behind him before he continued on.
He was surrounded by infinite black, and seemed to be standing on air. He took a few steps forward, each step echoing loudly through the dark abyss. Uncertain of his destination, he continued forward, peering down through the invisible trail below him. Beneath him, every color ever imaginable swirled in an endless, and beautiful torrent, and the air was thick with lone music notes, each one haunting and lovely in its singularity. Before him, a bright light appeared from the darkness, and he knew for certain who, and what it was. These were the things life was made of. Colors, and sounds, light and darkness. The heavenly creator flooded the barren earth with these things, and human souls then came, adding their memories to the concoction that was existence and weaving the intricate web of the universe itself.
You broke the rules… You became attached to her.
Squall listened to the voice that could not be heard, but rather felt, in his mind. "I know," he replied. "It was never my intention to, but I…"
Couldn't help yourself?
He let loose a nervous laugh. "I guess that's what I meant to say… but it sounds like a lame excuse now, doesn't it? If I may ask… what will become of me now?"
He was alarmed to hear the thundering of laughter erupt from nowhere and everywhere at once. Even the darkness itself to seemed to shake with it.
Do you really think I would punish you for loving? Such was my intention all along. I just wanted to congratulate you on discovering the meaning of life that so many people search for.
"The meaning of life?" he repeated.
The meaning of life… is to live. It's that simple, but humans always want to make it so complicated. The world is filled with pain and suffering, but there is happiness and love there as well. The point is to take all that you can get. To feel something is better than feeling nothing. To experience both laughter and tears… to feel and learn and do as much as you can. That is the point.
"So… I am to continue with my job now?"
No… I have better plans for you. You, Squall Leonhart, will be returning to earth as a twenty-year-old human. There, you will live with the woman you love, and procreate. Teach your children to be good people, and help others whenever you can. That is all. Goodbye, Squall Leonhart. It will be quite a while before we meet again.
Dazzling sunlight streamed in through the window, and sheer white curtains parted in the gentle summer breeze. A lazy groan escaped from beneath a thin white sheet, followed by a shuffling sound, and a loud thump as a heavy body slipped from the bed and fell to the floor, still tangled in the sheet.
A young, raven-haired woman sat up, surprised at suddenly finding herself uncovered. She propped herself up at the edge of the bed and smiled down at the glimmering blue eyes that stared up at her from below.
"Sometimes I still forget that I don't have the whole bed to myself."
She laughed aloud, saying, "I wish you could've seen your face!"
"Ha, ha, ha…" he mumbled, before grabbing hold of her wrists and pulling her down on top of him. "There, now we're even."
She giggled and leaned in to capture his lips in a passionate kiss. Just as her lips were brushing his, she pulled away slightly. "How do you feel about children?"
"They're noisy, why do you ask?"
She frowned. "Well, if you don't like children, you shouldn't try so hard to make them."
He sighed contentedly, and ran a hand through her hair. "You know I love you more than anything, Rinoa. And if we had a child I would love it just as much. Besides… I was told to procreate, you know."
Rinoa rolled her eyes. "Yeah, sure, that's your excuse. You drag me into the bedroom three or four times a day because you were told to procreate."
"I never heard any complaints from you before," Squall replied. "Quite the contrary in fact. Besides, as humans we only get to walk the earth for a short amount of time. So I'm asking you… to help me experience life to the fullest…"
She laughed and gave him a gentle kiss. "Okay, then… I'm ready, and willing… to experience life with you…"
A/N: Well, I know it was kinda corny at the end… okay, really corny and mushy throughout, but… what thinks you of the end, my fair readers? *sniffle* I can't believe it's over! I've been writing this thing for over a year now! It was fun… So, go read my other stories, please?! I had some big, long speech planned out here, but… I forgot so, with these closing words on this story, I thank you all for taking the time to read it. Thanks, people!!