he into light.

evil, but drew it back sheepishly when he realized that nothing was there. Not that there was anyone around to see him acting the fool. He really had thought he'd heard something, though. A cry.

He wanted to squint, but even if he closed his eyes fully all he saw was white. He knew that light filtered through eyelids was usually red; it made him wonder if he had a body at all.

So was he dead?

Somehow he didn't think so. He didn't claim to know what happened after people died but he had the feeling this wasn't it. Anyway, he was already pretty sure that this was Time Compression, not death. Fujin was convinced that they were one and the same, but he didn't see how that could be- he'd been here for what felt like a considerable amount of time, standing in white, and nothing bad had happened to him at all.

It was a little weird, sure, what with the light and all. And the occasional whispered comment in his ear. He could never find a speaker, though, and he'd stopped trying after a while. Whispers weren't dangerous.

Neither were the other odd sounds. The


footsteps, the occasional far off crash or boom. Once, he had heard a bell tolling, a terrible sound that evoked images of monsters lolling in purple smoke, but still, nothing to be afraid of.

This was actually kind of boring. Was he supposed to do something? Or would he be stuck here forever with no one to talk to and nothing to do?

It felt like waiting. He was waiting. Or something else was. For what? He'd already done all he knew to do; he'd chased Fujin all the way down to the lowest level of the Lunatic Pandora, falling behind as he cast Double on himself, moving up beside her on the final stretch. Funny how he didn't know what she was thinking, but knew with certainty what she would do. But he'd never gotten a chance to use those Float spells- he'd found himself here, surrounded by white.

In the eye of the storm. The words were so audible, so clear, he didn't know if it was his own thought or another whisper.

It seemed to fit though.

The strangest sensation passed over him, that of rapid movement, yet he could feel no wind and see no landmarks to mark the passage of space.

Disoriented, he wrapped his arms around his torso

and squinted into the rain.

"Fuu," he called out again, "you out there?"

What was she doing, anyway? It was freezing out. Summer, but today's rain was chilly. Maybe he should go out there and find her. It looked pretty cold and wet though, and he didn't have a coat.

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other uncertainly. It wasn't like she liked him anyway. She never said a word, not to him or anyone else. He only knew her name because the lady called her Fujin. He liked to call her Fuu. It got a reaction out of her, at least. An annoyed look, actually, but that was better than the usual blank stare.

Still, he liked her. He'd always wanted a sister, and although he didn't understand where his parents had gone, he knew there was no possbility of that now.

He sighed

(i'm so tired, quisty)

and stepped out into the rain. He trudged his way past the sandbox and toward the tree line, splashing idly in puddles.

She was sitting on the ground, heedless of the leaves dripping water onto her silver head. She looked like one of those water nymphs he'd seen in a picture book- all long wet hair and strange eyes.

He plunked down next to her and ignored the water seeping into his pants.

"Hey, Fuu," he said. And of course she didn't respond, but that was okay. She was listening.

"It's cold out," he offered. No response.

"Kinda wet, ya know?" Nada.

"Didja see those worms by the sandbox?" She looked over at him, faintly alarmed.

"Yep," he enthused, "a whole bunch of 'em, just wiggling around over there."

She stood up abruptly, and he remembered too late that girls didn't like worms and stuff like that. Worms were icky, or

(shh, both of you lie down. i'll stand watch)

something. He stood up too, and watched with surprise as she walked over to the sandbox and peered at the ground.

He followed, and they stood together in the rain and watched the earthworms.

"I guess they like the water," he said. "But when it dries up they die. And then they stick to the pavement."

The girl beside him stared at the ground for a few moments.

"That sucks," she said fiercely in her tiny child's voice, and turned to stalk back to the orphanage. 

He goggled at her retreating back, and when he remembered to shut his mouth a grin grew there in its place. He hurried after her, almost bursting with

happiness as he raced down the hallway to her room. He skidded to a stop in front of her door and knocked hastily.

She opened it suspiciously, and then realized it was him.

"Fujin, are you unpacked yet? C'mon, you gotta see this!"

She slipped out of the door to join him, carefully pocketing the key card.

He grabbed her wrist and dragged her down the hallway a ways before she pulled out of his grasp. "Okay, okay. I can walk by myself, you know."

He slowed down then and waited for her. "This is just so cool."

They walked at a more sedate pace down to the Quad, and he could tell that she didn't really give a rat's ass about the deck. She'd only come because he'd asked her to.

"Look, they have trees here. It's so crazy, I didn't know you could do that inside a building," he chattered blithely, knowing that she was upset and that his words soothed her.

"It's really nice, Raijin," she said, and looked at the ground.

He gazed at her for a moment. "This is it, Fuu. No more moving around. No more being handed off to family after family."

She said nothing, only tucked her hands neatly inside her elbows.

"C'mon, let's go down to

(does he ever sleep?)

the cafeteria," he said. "I'm starving."

She smiled a little. "You're always starving."

"Can't help it. I'm a growing boy, ya know?"

They turned and made their way out of the Quad. "I wonder if they have ice cream," she said, suddenly all child again.

"I bet they do. Can't have a school without ice cream," he asserted, though he didn't know if it was true.

They walked side by side, and his head started to

swim- the other boy had punched him pretty hard. He sat up dizzily from his sprawl and touched his face.

"Maybe you'll think twice next time before opening your mouth."

He peered up at the young man standing so nonchalantly before him, and the image that had made him laugh in the first place passed before his eyes again- Seifer Almasy, normally a remarkably graceful young man, tripping over his own feet as he attempted the three small steps before the Directory. The surprised look on his arrogant face as he tumbled head over heels had been irresistible- Raijin had not been able to hold in that guffaw.

He stood up slowly and wiped at his face again, grinning at the memory. It had been worth it.

Seifer didn't seem to like Raijin's smile much though- his mouth faded into a thin hard line.

"Didn't you hear me? No laughing. Wipe that stupid grin off your face or I'll do it for you."

Raijin relaxed his shoulders, and merely looked at the other boy. Seifer had caught him off guard with that punch- but he wouldn't find another opening so easily.

"Go ahead and try," he said, and immediately Seifer was moving toward him again. But Raijin was ready, sideslipping easily. Like magic, his hand found its way to Seifer's arm, and it was child's play to toss

(no, i really don't think he does)

him to the floor. He crouched before the other boy could react and returned the original blow- the one that was already turning the skin around his eye dark. Then he sat down next to him and waited for the other to stop spluttering.

Cheerfully, he said, "There, we're even, ya know?"

And Seifer laughed.

Raijin beamed back, obscurely pleased. Seifer was a pain sometimes, but Raijin admired him. He was talented, highly so, and something about his forceful personality appealed to Raijin immensely. This one wasn't afraid to be himself.

"Yeah, I guess we're even. It's not nice to laugh at people though."

Raijin shrugged. "You would have laughed. And besides, it's not nice to punch people, either. Ya know?"

Seifer didn't reply, just picked himself up off the ground. Raijin stood too, and watched as Seifer touched his face, frowning.

"We were just about to get breakfast," Raijin said tentatively.

"We?" Seifer looked around.

"Me and Fuu," Raijin explained. "Wanna meet us there?"

"Sure," Seifer said slowly, an amused smile on his face masking some other expression.

"Cool! See ya in a few," and he made his way to Fujin's room, humming

along with the radio tunelessly. Seifer would have yelled at him to knock it off, but the volume was turned on all the way; Raijin was pretty sure the blaring music covered the small sound he was making.

He looked out the window at the passing scenery- Seifer drove fast- and smiled. Fuu was in a good mood, they were going shopping in Deling City today. Seifer was to get some work done on Hyperion for the upcoming exam, and Raijin needed new shoes.

He hummed a little louder, daringly, and thought that they were moving

faster now, it's going faster. He paused, wondering where the thought had come from, and looked at her face. Her eye was bloodshot. Had she been crying, or simply not sleeping? He worried about her all the time now. Seifer was gone, joined with the Sorceress, and it was hard on her. On both of them. Two weren't enough, not any more.

"We're going to him, aren't we," he said, not asking.

She nodded just once, and they were

running out of Hotel Balamb with their tails tucked between their legs. Raijin glanced at her. Her face was twisted with some emotion. Rage, he thought.

Funny how he thought it was not directed at Leonhart, but at Seifer. He really didn't know

(sleep now, rinoa)

how he felt - it was too complicated. He was willing to let Fujin dictate how they both felt about it. He looked up

at the man on the dias. Seifer held Hyperion vertically in a strange sort of salute.

"Raijin, Fujin. It's been fun."

And he saw her turn away, face

alight somehow, at peace. She held his hands and for a moment he was surprised. Why should he be surprised that she held his hands? They were at the altar, that's what you did there. Held hands, slid rings onto fingers,

kissed, and he brushed away a tear. Weddings always made him cry, and the fierce joy on Fujin's face elated him. His two best friends, joined as one. What could be more

unimportant, he thought, and pushed his way back into the light. The future is far off, it cannot touch you unless you let it. What mattered was now.

Where were they? Were they in danger, falling into their futures as he knew he would not? He felt fear then; they both looked forward, and he knew somehow that the future was dangerous. Had that cry been Fujin?

He listened carefully, and thought he heard something. A far off scream. Fujin.

He struggled then, trying to reach her. She was in pain, being ripped apart, he had to help her. The light tilted crazily without moving at all, and he reached out his hand.

"Fujin," he yelled. "Fujin!"

The light began to melt into darkness. He heard her scream again, closer now.

He waded through shifting black and white, concentrating.

"I'm here Fuu, I'm here," he murmured, and suddenly he heard a low groan. He beat at the barrier that he could feel but not see, then stilled. That wasn't the way.

He extended his hand, slowly, trying not to panic at her agonized groan echoing in his head. Gently, he thought. Gently, and he was through, his hand touching hers, and he drew her to him quickly, folding her ethereal form in his arms.

"Don't think about it, Fuu, you'll lose yourself."

She whimpered, the first time he had heard such a sound from her, and he stroked her hair softly. He had to calm her down- they had to find Seifer. It would take both of them. He swallowed, thinking of what Seifer might be going through.

Fujin slowly began to fall out of her shuddering, and Raijin's attention was caught by something above him. His head craned back and he looked up, searching for