Summary: When something happens to Irvine, Squall has to find out what went wrong, and why. The answer is something he doesn't expect.
Warnings: Slash/Yaoi, Graphic Sex/Violence, Non-Con, Alcohol Use
The track they were following into the forest was new, made by large trucks and vehicles that were, presumably, used for mining. Zell stood in the middle of the road, doing a series of complicated looking stretches. Seifer leaned against a tree to the side of the track with his arms crossed, while Irvine sat with his back against one of the larger trunks, looking over the map Squall had given them.
"I think we're no more than three miles away from the site," he said.
Zell sighed, straightening with a grunt. "You sure? Squall said the mine was only a mile or two from the beach. It seems like we've been walking for ages."
Seifer snorted. "You've got no patience. We can't have walked more than two miles inland."
Zell glared at the tall man, but Seifer seemed uninterested in an argument for once. The martial artist turned his attention back to Irvine, who was looking between the two of them uneasily. Zell fought down a grin at that. It didn't take much to make him want to fight Seifer, but he wasn't going to go for the attack before they killed the main prey. He moved to look at the map.
"I think we went in the wrong direction – we went south when we should have gone east," Irvine said.
Seifer snorted again. "Figures. That's the last time I go on a mission without a damned compass."
Zell rolled his eyes. "Whatever. So do you know where we are?"
Irvine nodded. "We're in the forest surrounding the site. It was sheer luck, running across this road." He squinted up at the sun. "It's only, like, nine o'clock, so we should get there before ten."
Seifer straightened. "All right, then. Are you both junctioned?"
Zell closed his eyes for a second, feeling the familiar crackle of energy as he greeted Quezacotl, and touched the boisterous strength of the Brothers. He grinned as a surge of magic braced him and sharpened his senses. He heard Seifer's voice as from a distance.
"Remember that we don't know what kind of dragons we're facing here. They could be anything from blues to rubies, so stay sharp. Junction fire to your defense, just in case."
Zell asked his guardians for the protection, and it was granted. He felt sudden warmth as his skin heated, a peculiar tingling feeling increasing as magic reinforced his defenses. He opened his eyes in time to see a red glow leaving Irvine and Seifer's bodies, and looked down to see the same glow dissipating from himself.
"Hey, Chicken," Seifer said, and Zell whipped his head around in time to see a fireball forming in the swordsman's hand. He braced himself as it flew towards him, but it absorbed seamlessly into his body, and he felt his spirits lift as it cured him instead of harming him.
He tossed a half-hearted curse Seifer's way, but he felt very cheerful, bouncing on the balls of his feet and shadow boxing as he waited for the other two to finish getting themselves ready for battle. He glanced over at Irvine and watched his eyes turn watery blue, then black as he made contact with his guardians, Leviathan and Pandemona. He looked back to Seifer as it grew very warm in the clearing, the blond man bringing Ifrit and Diablos to heel. Zell closed his eyes and mentally stroked Quezacotl's wings, feeling himself spark with electricity.
Seifer's voice broke the silence. "Okay, let's move out." His voice seemed deeper and rougher after he had communicated with his demonic guardians. "Try not to screw up too badly, you two. Especially you, Chicken."
Zell growled in response, trotting after the swordsman's rapidly disappearing back, with Irvine bringing up the rear.
Zell panted, racing to keep up with Seifer and Irvine's longer strides.
"Fuck! Don't you – ah – don't you fall behind, Chicken-wuss! I don't want – to have to – tell bloody Leonhart that I – left you to the fucking dragons! Come on!"
A deafening roar from behind them spurred Zell to greater speed, and he looked around desperately for a hiding place as they ran. Not long after they had entered the forest, they found the site. It was covered – completely – with dragons. Ruby dragons. The nest was enormous, and it hadn't taken long for one of the males to spot them. They had been able to kill five, but they were now being chased by two of the larger females.
"There!" Irvine said, pointing to a path that led off the main track. Zell could see the mouth to a cave not far along it. Zell was left behind once again as the two taller boys pelted along the new road, but the sound of huge flapping wings propelled him straight into the mouth of the cave to collide neatly with Seifer's back.
Zell rolled off of Seifer, who sat up quickly and glared at him.
"There must have been nearly thirty of them," he said, trying to distract the tall man.
Irvine shook his head from his place at the back of the small cave. "More like forty."
Zell looked around their hiding place. The cave was less than thirty feet deep, but the narrow, hidden opening made it safe. He heard the dragons roar again and scrambled farther from the entrance, scooting along the dusty stone floor.
Seifer stood. "There's no way we can get all of them." He swung Hyperion back and forth angrily. "Why didn't the damned mining company tell us there were so many?"
Zell shrugged. "Maybe they didn't know. They did say they had to evacuate." He rubbed the knuckles of his left hand, wincing. "Yo, Irvine, can you toss me a potion?"
"Sorry, Zell. We used all we had. All I've got is an elixir," Irvine said, panting. "I don't think we should use it until we're desperate."
Seifer agreed. "Yeah. But I'm running low on magic. I don't know about you two, but I don't have very much left, and Diablos is exhausted."
Zell checked with Quezacotl. "We can't fight much more without a rest, either." He looked over at Irvine, who shook his head. "What should we do?"
Seifer started pacing. "Well, we can't leave the cave for a while. The rubies will be watching the forest, and probably the plains just outside."
"Pandemona says she can feel two dragons on the wind above us," Irvine put in. "And there are three more in the air above the nest and mine." He wrapped his arms around himself.
Seifer swore colorfully. "How much ammo do the two of you have left?" Zell asked.
"Not a lot," Irvine said. "I've still got a ton of fire ammo, but that won't be much help, and only three or four shells of pulse ammo left."
"I've got maybe ten rounds," Seifer said. He sat on the floor, looking defeated.
There was a long moment of silence.
"Hang on," Irvine said. "I have my mobile phone. I can call Squall."
Zell started. "Great!" He looked over at Seifer, who was frowning. "Oh, come on, Seifer."
"I don't want to run to Mr. Leader."
Zell rolled his eyes. "Have you thought of a better plan? We don't have a whole lot of options here!"
"Damn it," Seifer sighed. He dropped to his back. "Go ahead, Kinneas."
Zell lay back as well, letting himself feel the just-healed wounds he had suffered on the claws of the dragons. The last one had gouged his leg badly before he had been fully cured. Though, in a way, it had been a blessing – he had found his limit in the pain, and it had been enough to finish off the monster. Irvine had cast a last, breathless cure on him, and they had run for their lives.
Zell rolled his head to look at the gunman, who had his back turned as he dialed the number into his phone. Irvine was trying to be very quiet, but it was obvious he was injured by the small noises that kept escaping. Zell propped himself up on one elbow, looking over the other boy carefully. Where was it? He cast a quiet scan, knowing it wouldn't be needed later. There – a long scratch down his side, where it was hidden by his duster. Zell winced. It was deep, too. He was about to drag himself up when Irvine started to speak. Zell kept quiet, and listened to this side of the conversation.
"Squall? It's me, Irvine. No – they're fine. But the nest was a lot bigger than we expected. It wasn't just one or two; it was nearly forty grown rubies. We're about out of supplies – I've only got a couple of spells left and nearly no ammo and the others are the same. Can you come?" There was a pause. "We've found shelter in a cave, about a quarter of a mile from the mine." Another pause. "No, we aren't hurt, but we don't have any potions left." Irvine leaned against the cave wall. "Five hours? We can't wait for the whole Garden, you know? We're pinned down here." Irvine took the phone away from his mouth with a soft gasp as he sank to the ground, and spoke into it again in response to whatever Squall said. "Please. We need you here. Quisty, too, if she can. But we won't be able to fight our way out on our own." Zell watched as he nodded with relief, his eyes closed. "Thanks, man. Please – fast as you can, okay?" He switched the phone off and spoke to the two of them. "He's coming. He's got a little air thing that he says can get here in two hours."
Seifer groaned. "Saved by the commander. My lucky day." He rolled onto his side, watching the cave entrance.
Zell frowned at him, and stood gingerly, walking over to Irvine. He heard a dragon roar, a long way off, and shuddered. He knelt at Irvine's side. "Let me see it," he said.
Irvine opened his eyes, pretense gone. "You looked?" he said quietly.
"Yeah." He reached for the edge of the duster, but Irvine caught his hand.
"I don't – I don't think you should," he said, still very quiet. He pressed his other hand to his side. "We don't have a way to heal it, anyway, and my clothes are probably holding some of the blood in." He took a long, shuddering breath. "I don't know what'll happen if we try to move them."
"But if it's really bad, we have to know," Zell urged, matching Irvine's tone. If the gunman wanted to keep it from Seifer, it was his own business, but Zell was damned if he was going to let Irvine bleed to death. "Let me see. Come on," he said, watching Irvine's eyes struggle to stay open. His grip on Zell's hand was weakening. "That's right, my man." His hand dropped, eyes falling shut.
"Just –" he took another wavering breath, "be careful, okay?"
Zell very slowly peeled Irvine's duster away from his body, and lifted his arm away. He winced – it was very messy. 'How did he run like this?' Zell thought with amazement, but as he glanced up at Irvine's face he could see that it had cost him dearly. The boy was barely breathing, and he looked like he was about to pass out from the pain. Zell assessed the extent of the damage, trying not to move Irvine any more than was necessary. Some dragon's claw had gotten him across the ribs, and all the skin along his right side had been flayed away. The claw had completely pierced the flesh of his side, coming out through his back, but, as Zell frantically reviewed his basic anatomy, it missed any vital organs. The muscles were shredded, but by some miracle the dragon hadn't passed through his ribs and damaged his lungs or heart. Several of the ribs were broken, though – some more shattered than just broken – and Zell couldn't tell if the bones had missed his lung or not. Most distressing, blood was flowing steadily from the wound, and Zell wrapped the duster tightly around Irvine, lowering him carefully to his good side on the floor. He bowed his head, thinking desperately about what they could do.
'Quezacotl,' he thought formally. 'Do we have a spell of healing that we may cast on my comrade?'
The answering rumble of thunder in his mind was a negative. He looked back to Irvine with alarm, noting the horribly pale color of his face and the glazed look as he opened his eyes. They were clouded blue-violet, becoming slightly glassy. "It's bad, isn't it," he whispered.
Wisps of auburn hair that had escaped his ponytail stuck to the sweat on his cheeks and forehead. Zell smoothed them away. "Yeah," he said honestly. "It's really bad." Irvine tried to shift, and groaned. "Do you have any healing spells left?" he asked. Irvine shook his head. "I'll ask Seifer."
Irvine's eyes widened and he shook his head again. "Don't," he said. Zell drew back.
"I have to. I don't know why you want to keep it from him, but we have to see," he said, standing up. Irvine's eyes followed him pitifully, but it was obvious that he couldn't move to stop Zell, who went quickly to Seifer's side.
"Yo, Seifer. Do you have any healing spells left?" he asked the prone man.
Seifer turned over to glare at him. "You aren't thinking of using a spell on your hand, are you?" he demanded scathingly.
"No, you ass. Irvine needs one. He's really badly hurt," Zell said with irritation, dropping to a crouch. Seifer sat up, glancing toward the rear of the cave. He frowned at the sight Irvine presented, and Zell looked back as well. "A dragon got him in the side. He's lost a lot of blood and a bunch of his ribs are broken. The muscles are all shredded, too, but I don't think the thing tore any of his organs."
Seifer's frown deepened when he heard the soft moan Irvine let loose. He paused for a second, his face going blank as he questioned his guardians. "I don't have anything, Zell," he said, using the boy's given name for once. "And he doesn't, either?"
"No," Zell said, disappointed. "We were badly under-prepared for this mission. We should have known something like this could happen."
Seifer nodded. "Is he going to make it?" he asked quietly, hoping Irvine couldn't hear them. "Can we wait for Squall?"
"No, but we can… we can try some things." He paused, thinking. "Did you have any medic training?"
Zell took a deep breath. "Okay, I guess that makes you my lovely assistant." Seifer snorted. "We can use the elixir to heal him, but first we have to make sure that, since his ribs did shatter, none of the shards got his lung. We need to set them to heal it properly, or it'll be a waste."
"I thought the elixir would just heal the wound."
Zell shook his head. "No. A potion is just a nasty drink, without the aid of a guardian to help it along. The proper explanation is really long, but what it boils down to is that the para-magic sets bones and puts skin back in place when you're in battles, and the potion does the stitching and setting once you drink it. That's why you can only use them if you're junctioned to your guardian during a battle. The potion wouldn't be able to work without the magic. As it is, most people just cast straight healing spells and don't bother with the potions. It's much more effective."
"Well, why can't we rely on the magic to set the bones?"
"Because both of our guardians are exhausted, and we can't drag any more magic out of them. And we can't rely on Irvine's Pandemona or Leviathan, either, because they're in the same boat. We're going to have to set everything ourselves the way a doctor would in a hospital, where there is no magic."
Seifer groaned, looking over at Irvine. "Sweet father of holy Hyne," he said. "Tell me what to do."