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Breaking Point

He couldn't move, he couldn't open his eyes, he couldn't feel. Squall was no stranger to bouts of melancholy where such things might occur, but this felt different. For one thing, he didn't feel sad. Or even that strange empty emotionlessness that sometimes came over him. Somewhere, he was sure, he should be very very angry. But the only emotion that penetrated the numbness and fog was a vague curiosity.

He was vaguely aware of a heaviness in his head, a pain in his stomach. Then something changed, and there was pain all down his back, and on the back of his head. Vaguely, he felt this might mean he'd been dropped on something - but he didn't remember being carried, and couldn't seem to care much. He heard clicking footsteps, but the sound kept fading in and out so he had no idea where they were coming from. Then a voice, soft and feminine...concerned?

"Seifer, you ass," she said. "I gave you permission to injure him, not to trank him to death. How many shots did you use?"

The part of Squall's mind that could still think was wondering why the words were so angry when the tone was so gentle and concerned. The dichotomy was...disconcerting.

"Six," came the reply. He knew that voice, didn't he? What had the woman called him?

"Six," said the woman. "Two would have been more than enough, and you used three times that. He's no good to me dead, Seifer. Get Odine."

More names he should know. But the harder he struggled for consciousness, the more control slipped away from him. Was there something going on?.....

* * * * * * * * * *

Squall blinked, his eyes feeling as if they'd been closed so long they'd sealed themselves that way. Slowly, he shook his head to clear his thoughts. His head felt like it had been filled with lead, heavy and slow.

Things began to register in his mind. The first was that he was looking at himself. Not his clothes, himself. He was in a standing position, and the only thing he was wearing was his LionHeart pendant? He looked around. No, not just the pendant. He also had Griever, still on his finger. But all the rest of his clothes were gone. He was chained upright, arms and legs spread so that he looked like a human X, completely nude save for his jewelry.

This could not be a good sign. He tried to give the chains a tug, but there was no give. No give at all. The only part of his body he could truly move was his head. Otherwise there was only useless wriggling.

Then he noticed the size of the room - huge - and the disturbing array of glass windows along every wall he could see. And alternating every window was a mirror. He could see the whole room.

This was definitely not a good sign. Even the D-District prison had let him keep his clothes. Yet there was no sign of any racks of torture implements...not even syringes or latex gloves.

They certainly hadn't allowed him to wake up like this to offer him waffles drenched in syrup. He was almost positive that whatever his captors had in mind, he wasn't going to like it. The only thing he could find worthy of hope in the whole mess was he couldn't see Rinoa. Whatever else happened, they didn't have Rinoa.

"We did not want the Sorceress," came a melodic, feminine voice. "We wanted you. And we will have you for as long as we please, Squall Leonhart."

This was the woman who had spoken before. As she entered the room, Squall could see that she had long brown hair, brown eyes, and a petite frame. She couldn't be more than five feet tall. She smiled sweetly, as though he were a guest at a manor house. She came right up next to him, almost close enough to touch. Involuntarily, Squall tried to move away and found again that he could not.

"Don't touch me," he said before he thought.

The little woman laughed, a sweet cheerful sound. "Such a beautiful boy," she said, and reached up to play with his hair. He jerked his head to one side, angrily. "Ah, so delicate. So proud. Did it wound your pride, Squall, when Rinoa had to rescue you from the time-compressed world?"

She backed up, so that she did not have to look up so far to see his face. "Squall, you seem to misunderstand. I had you brought here; you will have nothing that I do not give you, experience nothing that I do not let you experience. It is not your place any longer to say what will and will not happen to you."

This woman is seriously crazed, thought Squall. To his surprise, her eyes narrowed.

"I am not crazy, Squall. You are hardly the one to make such judgements in any case, so lacking in courage as you are."

You can read thoughts? thought Squall carefully.

"Much more than that," said the woman. "I can read everything in your mind, just as it happens. Everything you think, everything you feel, is open to me. Thus I know that you were lost in Time Compression because you lacked the courage to reach out with your whole heart. It rests in your mind, so I know it - even though I was not there."

Squall blinked, trying to ignore the sting of her words to concentrate on their import. This was worse, much worse, than nudity. He had spent his whole life behind walls and masks and shells. Now, all at once, he had none. For the first time, a tendril of fear uncurled in his stomach.

"I see you understand me," said the woman cheerfully. "You know the three parts of a living being? The mind, the body, and the soul? I can't touch your soul, unfortunately. And as a SeeD, you are trained to endure the punishment of the body. But the mind...ah, the mind. We all have our ghosts and demons, our fractures in the mind, do we not? I know where your fractures are, Squall."

All at once she was within a breath of touching him again. Squall could sense her nearness and it was not in the least bit pleasing to him. He wanted nothing more in the world, right at that moment, than to push her away with all his strength. He shuddered with sudden revulsion. She looked up into his face and smiled beatifically, as though she were a lover coming in close for a snuggle.

"Your mind I can break, Squall. And I will. Such a beautiful mind, so fragile. But do not worry, I will not allow you to die. You will live to see your Rinoa again."

The woman stepped delicately toward the exit, but paused at the door. She turned back to face him, still smiling cheerfully.

"And with any luck, you will kill her."

No...thought Squall. I will die first.

* * * * * * * *

Don't touch me! rang in Squall's mind, over and over again. All around him were strangers of all descriptions, all of whom wanted nothing more than to lay their hands on him. Every hand, every finger, elbow, knee, arm, leg...every point of contact made Squall shiver. To him, every hand felt like the touch of a battery, sending unpleasant tingles radiating out from the point of contact. And there were uncounted hands, arms, bodies...

He tried to use the SeeD techniques for handling physical torture, tried to retreat into his mind, or force himself to sleep or pass out, but every time that woman would enter his mind and force him to feel every touch even more clearly than he already did, along with a pitying mental commentary on his emotional failings. Taunting he could have taken, insults he could have taken, but the gentle voice in his mind was only ever pitying, as though she expected more of him. There was no telling how long this had been happening, would be happening, don't think about that....

Alicia turned to Odine, who was watching the experiment with his entire attention. "When may we begin the tests?" she asked.

Odine checked some figures on his clipboard. "He has remarkable endurance," he commented. "I vould haf thought him to lapse into unconsciousness hours ago."

"That is my doing, Odine," said Alicia. "I am holding his mind here. He has been trying to escape that way for a few hours now, but I will not let him."

Odine looked at her. "Then vy do you ask me ven ze tests begin? How is Odine to know ven he has reached his limit?"

"We only need to know the limit of his strength for now, do we not?" she asked sweetly. "Has he exerted strength greater than the recorded limit?"

Odine checked the readouts against his clipboard, and said, "No. He exerted his greatest strenkt...about two hours ago."

Alicia looked out the observation window, and smiled. Squall was surrounded by a sea of strangers, all touching him anywhere they liked, as hard or soft as they liked. She could feel the revulsion in his mind as he tried to reject their nearness, their intimacy. But he could not move. After he'd bitten one of them, even his head had been immobilized.

He had not yet said anything, though the growls were getting closer to cries or whimpers as the hours wore on. Nor had he wept. Alicia would not let him weep; that was part of his torture. She did not need to keep him from speaking. He knew as well as anyone that there was nothing he could say that would make any of them stop, or go away. As she touched his mind, she knew that he didn't even have any words to describe the violation he felt. She could hear his thoughts, trying to rationalize the touches, the bodies, the caresses, trying to come to terms with it as a test of courage, as Alicia had mentally prompted him to do. Other people touched all the time, right? But to Squall, touching another human being was an invasion, repugnant. There was no reason for it; it simply hurt on some level to touch another person's skin for any reason. Only Rinoa had ever even felt his hands, and Alicia's insinuations on his doubts concerning Rinoa had confused him even more. And now, an army of strangers could touch places much more private than just his fingers. The sensations were unbearable.

She reached out to him with her mind, knowing he would feel her walking in his thoughts. If a mind could shudder, his did. At the edge of his consciousness, Alicia could hear the single as-yet-unvoiced scream that would signal his breaking. Slowly it was growing louder.

He struggled, of course. The bonds chafed at his neck, his wrists, his ankles, but Alicia knew he was past noticing the pain. He struggled as fiercely as he could because there was no part of him that could conceive of not struggling, but he was growing weaker. She would not let his mind retreat into sleep, or unconsciousness, and this had been going on all day. She smiled at him, knowing he was past seeing anything but the mass of bodies all around him, his thoughts a jumble trying to deal with the physical invasion as well as the mental one. A lion, indeed, even if he did think of himself as a wolf. She laughed softly to herself. A wolf, a lone wolf. Wolves touch much more often than Squall, and have more faith in their pack.

She turned to Odine. "I think perhaps he is ready for the tests," she said. "Have you chosen a subject?"

Odine smiled and nodded. "Oh yes," he said. "I am thinkink maybe Carbuncle? Somezink he could not use to escape, you see."

The faintest hint of a frown pulled at Alicia's face. "You told me the bonds are strong enough to hold the Sorceress," she said.

"Zey are," said Odine. "I simply vish to start small. Ve vill haf time for ze more...dramatic GFs later."

"We only have a few days, Odine," she said. "The SeeDs will come looking for him as soon as they know he is missing, and I do not want them finding me yet."

Odine dismissed this with a wave of his hand. "I vill have ze strongest GFs for him ven he is mentally ready," he said. "If it is time to release him, a simple transmitter vill inform us of his progress. Zey cannot track a receiver."

Alicia nodded. "Very well, Odine." She turned back to her observation of Squall. He was trying to retreat into his thoughts again, trying to refuse the situation he was in. Ruthlessly she used her power to haul him back into himself, forcing him to feel every touch, dropping thoughts into his mind insinuating he was weak for trying to hide from them. She could see his muscles straining as he tried once again to break out of his bonds, fresh desperation spurring him on. She knew he could feel her in his mind. She didn't even need to read his thoughts to know how much that terrified him.

She smiled as she contemplated his pale, leanly muscled frame, knowing that not even Rinoa had been allowed to see and touch where every person in her complex now saw and touched. Such a reserved little star. Such a beautiful boy. Even when he reached thirty, he would still look so much like a boy. She supposed it was the lack of furriness. That didn't bother her a bit; she had never been fond of hairy chests, legs or backs. Thinking of that, she sighed and closed her eyes. It was but the smallest twist of her power to lock Squall in the moment. She could leave him now and attend to her other duties, and he would not know anything but that one second, replayed over and over in his mind.

She pressed a button that signaled to the people in the room they could take a break. As they filed out, she noted that some of them had had rather more fun with Squall than they should have. She noted their identities; no one had been told they could play - only tease. But that would have to be later.

She walked past several rooms in the long corridor. Her complex had once been a series of caves, but she had had them refined into a proper underground residence. She came to the door she wanted and entered the room. Inside was a large opaque tank with some tubes coming out. The metal of the tank limited her power at any distance. After making sure the connections were properly filled or emptied of various substances, she laid her hand on the tank's wall.

Alicia, let me out, please! I can't feel anything, hear anything, see anything please talk to me let me out please! I'll do anything you want, anything anything...

She smiled, but did not grace the mental voice with a reply. Seifer was so much Squall's opposite. Where Squall loathed human contact, Seifer required it. Where Squall was reserved and introverted, Seifer was reckless and impulsive. It even extended to their physical appearance; Squall a pale star beside Seifer's burning sun, each with that scar across the forehead and nose. It was fascinating; Alicia was almost tempted to include Seifer in the tests, just to compare the results. Hmm. She would have to discuss that with Odine.

But Seifer had pushed his orders too far this time, bringing Squall near to death with that tranquilizer overdose. It had taken precious hours to counteract the effect. Seifer needed punishment, and sensory deprivation was as terrifying to Seifer as touch was to Squall. Still, Seifer was hers. She would let him out...perhaps tomorrow morning.

She would not want the burning sun to fade.

Alicia smiled and continued on her rounds.

* * * * * * * *

The tests had begun.

Squall had still had presence of mind enough to recognize the ridiculous costume of Doctor Odine when they began. The idea of Odine injecting him with something - for Squall could see the syringe - had put him into a blind panic; Odine had no regard for human life whatsoever when he was performing his 'experiments', and the woman who had promised he would live had said nothing about the kind of life she would leave him. But the chains held, as they always did, holding hands and feet and head immobile. He had agility enough to squirm, and that was it. At least his tormentors were sent away - briefly - when Odine entered the room.

Some of his tormentors laughed when he squirmed. But Squall was damned if he was just going to stand there and do nothing in protest. A real case of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't. He tried not to remember, but he was losing control of his thoughts. He wondered why it didn't matter where he was touched. He knew most people simply didn't like being touched in the groin or the chest, but were okay with things like hugs or handshakes. Squall kept everything covered for the simple reason that to him there was no difference between a nipple or an elbow. Everything was sensitive. It had always been that way. Clothes were a necessary part of his shield. You will not see me, you cannot touch me, you can't hurt me...

But they could. They could see everything, even his thoughts. They could touch everything, even his thoughts. And they were hurting everything, all the way into the private corners of his mind. Desperately he tried to focus on the real world, tried to see what Odine held...

Squall had no idea what was in the syringes. He knew Odine wouldn't tell him, either. It would ruin the experiment for Squall to know what was happening to his body. There was no part of him these people weren't going to try to claim.

They all felt different, anyway. The first time it had almost been soothing. The hands of his tormentors hadn't bothered him as much for about an hour after that. It had felt like there was a thin shield between his body and their hands. The brown-eyed woman had not liked that at all. She'd made up for it by invading his mind and intensifying the moments until they hurt at least as much as before. When the whatever-it-was had worn off (and unfortunately this was when a particularly brutish man had grabbed him from behind) it had been all Squall could do to bite back the scream he knew the woman was waiting for.

They had not given him that injection again.

The injections had gotten progressively more painful as time went on, such that the only things Squall registered were the brief seconds he was left alone as Odine administered the shots, and the degree of physical pain afterward that - combined with the gradually more invasive brutality of his tormentors, and Alicia's gentle, persistent insinuations - brought him closer and closer to the brink of that madness not even the brown-eyed woman could haul him back from.

* * * * * * * * *

It was time.

After 72 hours of non-stop degradation, humiliation, contact, Squall had cracked. Alicia had been waiting for hours for this, knowing it was near, knowing she had only one chance to achieve her goal, deftly playing on Squall's increasing doubts of himself to bring the moment closer. She had removed the restrictions she had placed on her assistants; they could play with him as roughly as they liked - and some of them were very rough indeed. Alicia found such crude methods distasteful, but she could not deny that the effect on Squall had been devastating. She wondered if rape was worse on the male mind than on the female; it was something she had never had an opportunity to test, but there certainly seemed to be an additional shock involved. Men were never raised to believe rape was a possibility. Squall no longer thought of himself as a lion, or a wolf, or even worthy as a human being. A worthy human being would not have doubted Rinoa, would not have been trapped in the time-compressed world, would not have lost faith, would not have needed to be rescued from that world as he needed to be rescued from this. Nor would a worthy human being be tormented by the touch of another human being. He was hanging on to sanity by the thinnest of threads; all that remained to him was that he had not yet screamed.

Alicia let her henchmen do all that they wished, without restriction. And Squall screamed.

Alicia locked him into that precise moment, that tiny space wherein all that defined Squall Leonhart was shattered into uncounted pieces. He would relive those seconds over and over for as long as she pleased.

Locked into that 'present', that 'now', Squall had no knowledge of anything going on around him. Alicia dismissed her assistants to their quarters for much-needed rest. Then she sent guards to lock the doors of those who had gone beyond her instructions. She would not bother breaking them; she had another purpose in mind.

She turned back to Squall, smiling sweetly. He still struggled against his chains. There was no longer any connection between his mind and his body, and his body had been trained as a warrior.

That was why she had wanted him. Well. One reason, anyway. Gently, delicately, she kissed his face, standing on tiptoe to reach it. It was a motherly kiss, a sisterly kiss. She had admired his endurance, but she'd never been much attracted to the moody types. Their allure was their mystery, and with her power they had none. Still...he was quite a beautiful boy, even with his body covered in the bruises of his tormentors and the periodic injections. Beauty, pure beauty, was so rare in men. She sighed. A pity she could not have a statue made, to admire it. But Seifer would not understand, and she still had use for Seifer.

She left the room and called Odine, who was delighted to know that the tests could enter the second phase.

"All results are excellent," he enthused. "The diluted injections increased his strengkt fourfold, und faded exactly as ve hoped. Vich GF vere you zinkink ve should infuse him vit?"

"Leviathan," said Alicia. "The area hereabouts is in need of water, and it would be nice to see it bloom."

Odine raised an eyebrow at her, as if he found it hard to believe she would care about flowers. But he didn't object, merely ran his hands over a rack of vials until he located the one he wanted. When he pulled it out, Alicia could see a swirling, glowing, blue material inside.

"I shall gif him less zan ze dose reqvired for permanency," said Odine. "Ve shall vait to test zat on Seifer."

Alicia nodded. "How long will this less than permanent dose last?"

Odine shrugged. "Zere is no vay to know," he said. "Zat is vy ve experiment." He filled a syringe from the vial, and trotted into the chamber where Squall was held.

Alicia smiled to herself. There was no way to know if this injection would be more painful than the others. It was undiluted essence, but it was still less than what their theories said was needed to make the effect permanent. She wondered if it would have been wiser to begin before Squall had broken; they would at least know if it would hurt.

She dismissed such regrets. She had assistants enough who were in need of punishment. And a single human could only bear so much. Besides, Squall's tolerance for pain had to be well above the norm, or he would not have become a SeeD.

Odine jabbed the syringe into Squall's bruised body and injected the blue essence. His body reacted by increasing its struggles. Alicia watched the readouts. Yes...he was much stronger now. Stronger than the diluted version had made him, also. But they had expected that. She indicated the readouts to Odine as he returned. He clapped and rubbed his hands together excitedly. "Oh, go pick your target, Alicia," he murmured. "Zis is goink so vell, so vell!"

Alicia nodded, just as pleased as Odine was. She took a few guards, and walked down the corridors until she came to a room occupied by an assistant she needed to punish. The occupant turned out to be a large man, but he was backed against the wall, terrified of Alicia.

"You knew I would find your transgressions, Jek," Alicia said softly, sadly. "You knew I had said you were not to play with him yet. Why did you disobey me?"

"It was just a momentary lapse, Alicia, I swear!" babbled the man. "It's been so long, and he was so pretty..."

Alicia looked sad. "You knew those things before you abused him, Jek," she said gently. "You could have refused the assignment if you knew it was more than you could handle. You knew, also, that I would eventually give permission for you to play with him as you wanted. All you needed was patience. I am disappointed in you, Jek."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," babbled the huge man, crying hysterical tears.

"I will not tolerate disobedience, Jek," said Alicia softly, gently. "But I will give you a chance to redeem yourself. Come with me."

Jek happily followed her back to the lab, grateful to have escaped her displeasure. When she returned to the control station, she noted that Squall had started shaking violently. She frowned. "Is he rejecting the infusion, Odine?"

"No, no, it iz not zat," said Odine. "His body, it iz adapting, zat is all. Look at ze readouts - you see?" As Alicia did so, she saw what Odine meant. His strength and endurance had exponentially increased, and the rest of his body was trying to cope with the increased power. All was indeed well. She turned to Jek.

"You will dress him, Jek," she said, "and you will be forgiven." Her assistant immediately reached into the locker where all that Squall had had on him when captured was stored. When he had an armful, he darted into the room where Squall was held.

Once inside, Alicia pressed the button that sealed the door behind him. Then she turned to Odine. "Ready," was all she said.

Odine pressed a sequence of switches. The chains that held Squall immobile immediately released and retracted into the floor and ceiling. Squall was free.

The first thing he did was leap at Jek like a wild animal, fist swinging. The enhancement of his strength meant that Jek would be hurled some distance, but the room was large.

As the punch connected, a torrent of water erupted from Squall's fist as though it were bursting from a firehose. The pressure of the torrent threw Jek against the wall hard enough to leave a trail of blood, which was quickly washed away.

Squall moaned and fell to his knees, arms wrapped around his chest.

In the control room, Odine was delighted. "Complete success," he said happily. "You saw? He summoned ze force of Leviathan vithout junctioning!"

"I note that he is also not doing anything much at the moment," said Alicia. "If the power is so incapacitating, it is no good to us."

"Oh, zat is just momentary veakness," dismissed Odine. "Look, even now he begins to recover. Vith a fully healthy subject, ve should not see zat veakness at all."

Alicia considered that, and nodded. She turned to her guards, and told them to bring all the others among her assistants who needed punishment. Squall would be released with the power of Leviathan in him, to wreak whatever havoc he would on the deserted continent. With any luck, his friends would find him before the power faded, and he would do some of Alicia's job for her.

As she watched the assistants take the full brunt of Squall's rage as they tried to dress him, she smiled again. So far, he had killed seven of the fifteen she had chosen, some being hit with that water strike, and a few simply torn limb from limb. She would not have bothered with clothing him - he was no longer aware of himself in any case - but she wanted him to look just as he always had when his friends found him. It would lull them into coming close, and he would then attack them with surprise on his side.

Once Squall was dressed, and released, they would try the permanent version on Seifer, Raijin, and Fujin, a reward for their service.

When the Sorceress came to claim vengeance, she would be taken easily.

Chapter 12

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