Author's Notes: I don't know why I'm writing this thing ^^


Chapter One - "Where the hell is he?"

By Twig

rIvInG .gRrEaPsPhOs)

"e. e. cummings - r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r"


Tact was, in all occasions except dating, a completely useless skill, and even then it usually cost more in flowers and badly penned apologies than it was worth. So Seifer didn't waste any time on making the rounds, or asking permission to go straight to whomever was in charge - Xu, no real surprise there, with Quistis standing by. Of course, they weren't surprised to see him either, sans introduction or explanation.

"A guy takes a quick jaunt to Galbaldia..." He dropped even the grudging, exasperated remark as Quistis' face tightened, already pale and drawn, many of the fine wrinkles around her eyes and mouth changing places with the motion. Hell. Hell hell hell.

"Is he dead?"

It wasn't unthinkable. None of them were getting any younger. Raijin hadn't changed so much, but Fuujin's hair was almost totally white now, a side-effect from her preference of magic that still spoke of the years she had used it. He ran a hand through thinning blonde hair, not nearly so bad as Zell's, thank Hyne, but...

"Seifer, there was a problem -"

"Is Squall dead?!"

"No." Xu answered for her lover, glaring slightly at him, and Seifer backed down, knowing the information would only come if he did so. "He was out on a routine patrol, judging a new group of SeeD candidates, and they ran into trouble. An ambush, an anti-government group from Deling. We'd crushed their main force, these were just remnants, seeking fast revenge along with their deaths. They didn't even know Squall was there."

Quistis grimaced. "One of them had a junctioned Guardian Force... and so did we."

"Oh hell." Seifer could fill in the rest of the blanks himself. Scared, ill-equipped SeeD trainees facing down desperate soldiers with more power than they knew what to do with - and a Headmaster who never, ever thought about his own safety when his responsibilities lay elsewhere.

"Which one did he use?"

"Shiva. The trainee hadn't junctioned it yet, there was some minor problem... the enemy, we believe, had Ifrit. Hard to tell, there wasn't much left of them by the time we got there."

"He junctioned it." Seifer let the rest of the sentence slide into a growl of disbelief.

Dangerous. Everyone knew the price that came with using GF's now, which was why they had been quick to cap the amount of time a recruit could use one, usually only the duration of their time in the field, and even then there were limits. Limits and rules and regulations and /no one/ used one at Squall's age, when the mind didn't recover as well - if at all - and so it had just been easier to put the age limit up and make that the end of it.

"How is he?" Stupid question, but he couldn't help asking. No one would know, not just short-term effects but the longer damage and hell, hell Quistis was giving him that look that meant things were even worse than he was thinking.

"Squall used Shiva most of all, you know. She was the last Guardian Force he gave back, when he had to stop."

"So what happened? Where is he?" It was too hard to pick the most important question so he asked them at once, weight already shifted towards the door, whenever they told him where Squall was.

"We put him in his room, since there's nothing the doctors can do and it would be safer if he did come out of it, to be somewhere familiar-" Quistis had to rein in the rest of the breathless babble. Not like her, another bad sign. "Seifer, they can't get the Guardian Force to come out."

"What?!" He couldn't stand still, just couldn't, and Quistis was more than sharp enough to see it, following him out the door, down the hall. He barely let her lead the way. "What do you mean they can't get it out?"

"It's the reason we called you back so urgently. We don't know what kind of damage Squall sustained when he used Shiva, and apparently she remembers him, remembers his mind and she refuses to let go of him." She glanced at him from the corner of her eye. "You spent some time with Shiva, right?"

"Yeah. It was a long time ago, now." He realized what she was saying a moment later. "You expect me to get it out?"

"You're a mercenary, aren't you?" Quistis grinned, a throwaway smile she'd picked up more recently than all the other expressions he'd seen on her. "You're also his-"

She always had a problem with saying it, even though they both knew she didn't care. He never understood why, though she was so particular with words it seemed right that she'd have trouble choosing one, especially without a solid precedent.

"You're the one closest to him, we didn't trust any of the doctors when we realized she didn't /want/ to come out, or any of the trainees either." Quistis' eyes narrowed. "He's in trouble, Seifer, and it's only getting worse as long as she refuses to leave."

"I'll take care of it, don't worry."



He doubted the other man could hear him, but he had to say it anyway, just like he had to kneel down at the bedside, staring into slate blue eyes half-open and focused on some inner horizon.

"Is he conscious at all?"

"We don't think so. The trainees said he hadn't responded after he, well, Shiva took care of the enemy. He just fell, and didn't move."

Seifer assumed one of those trainees was the one now shifting near the doorway, waiting to take Shiva after - if - Seifer could get it into the open. It was nearly unbelievable the child was a trainee, they all looked so young these days, much younger than when he had been SeeD. Well, /almost/ been SeeD.

//Time flies, even now.// He frowned. Two weeks. Fourteen days since he'd left this room, left Squall here beneath the covers, sleepily munching on an English muffin and scattering crumbs all over the bed.

No man Squall's age was supposed to be able to get into that much trouble, not as a Headmaster in a time when all the conflicts were small and SeeDs were used more as armed bodyguards than anything else. It wasn't genetic, either, Seifer had it on good authority that President Laguna had spent the last twenty years of his life doing little more than chasing after sweet young things.

He grimaced, rising to his feet, feeling a slight twinge in his left knee, a battle scar that was never going to heal right no matter how many Curagas he cast on it.

"You ever get the feeling we're a bit old for all of this?"

Quistis' smile had sharp, though friendly, corners. "Speak for yourself, Seifer."

He took a long, deep breath, exhaled slowly, wondering just what his image had become that even Quistis seemed to think he could do this.

It /was/ possible to draw a Guardian Force without being junctioned, some of the residual abilities, carrying spells and such, those stayed in the mind for life, even if the Guardian Force was gone. Not that he could toss about much more than a Fira or two, and not even that if he was standing too far from the draw point. He'd never bothered to learn to fix Aeros in his mind the way Fuujin had - but he could do this.

He had to.

Seifer knelt down again, one hand against Squall's cheek, pressing lightly against the angle of his jaw, gloves on, didn't matter, and he /pushed/ in a way he hadn't in a very, very long time, and for half a heartbeat he couldn't breathe, nearly choked - and when he did finally catch a breath he knew he wasn't really breathing, not in this world where everything was vibrantly cold and piercing and she was watching him. Surprised he'd come to bother her, and already not pleased about it.

//Let go of him. You have to leave, now.//

Seifer wondered, if he couldn't feel anything but her vague presence, how he /knew/ Shiva was giving him the finger. The GF was curled quite comfortably inside Squall's mind, and had no intention of leaving. She had missed him, it had been a long time since she'd been in a mind as focused and clear as her own - she enjoyed working with him, enjoyed his precision and his ability and didn't think it was at all fair that she had to return to working with children, young and useless minds who couldn't begin to use her to her full potential.

//You damned...// Bad idea, insulting her, and Seifer bit down hard on the long litany before he could start. //You're hurting him! Can't you see that!?//

He had piqued her interest with that. The world she knew was inside his mind, and as far as she could sense little had changed, everything still there on the inside. Squall had called her out, she had come, it was the way things should have been. It had been an incredible battle, their foes had never stood a chance, even with a pathetic GF who had tried to counterattack. It was wonderful, the way it had always been when he had chosen her as his weapon.

//He shouldn't have done it. He had his back against the wall and he knew it was a terrible choice when he made it. He's not as strong as he was, he /can't/ use you anymore.//

All his strength and all that training with the gunblade and Squall was still just bone and sinew and flesh and a mind that couldn't take the strain. None of them should /ever/ have taken what the GF's were offering but it was too good to pass up, worth the risk but now it was over. It had to be over, and if she understood anything at all she had to understand that.

She had to understand that he wasn't leaving until she did.

//You're coming out if I have to drag you by your damn hair.//

There was a reason he and Rinoa only lasted a summer, a reason he enjoyed Fuujin and to a lesser extent Quistis and hell, even Selphie, who wasn't ever this sort of simpering prima-donna.

He could see her in his mind even if he couldn't /really/ see her, Shiva lifting a pale head haughtily as she slowly uncoiled herself from Squall's thoughts - and he grimaced, feeling her approach and her letting go and her cool touch like a spike between the eyes, piercing cold and sharp down deep into his brain. He stood up, recoiled instinctively, heard Quistis murmur something and if she did that probably meant it had worked all right.

Now if he could only remember just how badly an unjunctioned Guardian Force could kick his ass. Seifer risked opening his eyes, blinking away the dizziness, immediately staring into a pair of icy, gray-blue eyes. Slowly, he lifted a hand, very nearly touching the end of her nose.

"You're a bitch."

Shiva's eyes widened. Hyne, he always /knew/ they could understand him just fine, even when they weren't in his head. Quistis was going to yell at him later for it, but Shiva actually smiled at him, a quiet little smirk of respect. Being a bastard had its moments.

The new trainee was there, somewhere beside him ready to junction her, but Seifer was having a little trouble seeing anything beyond - well, shit, the tips of his toes, as he looked down muzzily, only to watch himself topple backward.

"I got you... chickenwuss."

Seifer glanced up, as a pair of hands on his shoulders helped carefully lower him to the ground. Zell had barely lost an inch of muscle since his youth, and when he saw Seifer glaring he grinned, that same brash expression that had always made him want to reach for Hyperion and just hammer him into the ground.

"Well well, some things never change." He'd given up on the old taunt years ago, but Zell brought it out every now and again, anytime he managed to help Seifer out. The fighter was probably keeping count. No, he was definitely keeping count.

"Just the annoying ones like you, Seifer." Zell kept a hand on his back until he was sure he wasn't going to pass out or fall over. "How was your trip?"

"I've had better. Bad weather, worse food, you know, 'Welcome to Galbaldia' and all."

He blinked back a few spots in his vision, forcing everything back into some semblance of order and following Zell's gaze to the bed. Squall blinked a few times, lifted his head just slightly before it became too much effort.

"Squall?" Quistis was there, and Seifer quickly scrambled to his feet, Zell right behind. "Squall, are you all right?"

He kept blinking, eyes half-lidded and weary. "Wh... th - the hell happened?"

"You were caught in a fight, and you junctioned a Guardian Force." Quistis didn't say it, but they could all hear the 'like an idiot' tacked onto the end. "We were able to get it out of you just now. Seifer did it. Do you know where you are?"

"... garden? 'f you're here, must be... right?" Clouded blue eyes glanced up, finally focusing on Seifer. "Hey... you're back. Good trip?"

He heard Quistis sigh in relief, and it was the signal he needed to smirk back, assured things were all right.

"Better than yours, I'd say." He felt a little flicker of alarm as Squall's eyelids fluttered - but he'd recognized them, knew where he was. That was enough. At least he hoped it was enough.

"Squall, can you stay awake for me?" Quistis again, pushing a bit at his arm, checking his pulse, pulling back an eyelid even as it closed.

"... don't think so."

Seifer snorted, Quistis rolling her eyes at the response.

"He seems to be all right," she said.

"Just needs some sleep, you think?" Zell murmured.

"It would make two of us." Seifer glanced up at Quistis as he pulled his coat off and tossed it on a nearby chair. "I'll be here all night. If anything happens, I'll call, okay?"

Quistis nodded slowly, reaching down to ruffle Squall's hair lightly, before giving him a warning glance - sisterly affection, warning him of a caution he already had, telling him what he already knew.

"I'll call if anything changes, and I'll call first thing in the morning. I'll call anyway, we'll hit the doctors then."

As if Squall didn't hate them as much as Seifer did, a lot of talk and waiting around for nothing, wasted time at the best and god-awful paper clothing at the worst. No doubt they'd want to give him the full battery of 'tests that sucked.' Might as well let him get some sleep first.

Hell, get a little peace of mind for himself, while they were at it. Quistis shuffled the trainee out the door, Zell following close by, and Seifer gladly shut it behind them.

It only took him about a minute in the bathroom before he was pulling off the last of his grotty traveling clothes and sliding into bed next to Squall. Thank God someone else had gone through the trouble of removing whatever had been left of Squall's uniform, replacing it with standard issue training sweats that he would still bitch about waking up in tomorrow. Seifer had seen him fall asleep fully clothed, belts and all, or he wouldn't have believed it possible with the way the man would whine now if - god forbid - he fell into bed from training too hard and Seifer refused to pull his socks off for him.

Squall as whiner, one of the man's many personality quirks only available behind a closed bedroom door.

"You're just going to have to deal with it. Besides, if there's another emergency you won't have to direct butt-naked from the bridge. Not that anyone would complain."

Seifer lay back, and sighed, and turned over until the dip in the bed and the space in his arms was filled with Squall, warm and alive.

It was all right to breathe again.

"No more emergencies, okay?" He kissed the place he had touched, to draw out Shiva, and sighed. Squall's face at rest seemed like safety to him, strong and permanent. He didn't enjoy having to consider the alternatives. "You've got to stop scaring me like that, you stupid ass. It's no fun to have nine lives if I keep using them up worrying over you."

He reached over Squall, turned off the light, sighed again because he could, because he had a warm bed and a warm body to share it with. Another day with everyone present and accounted for at the end of it, and if there had been a time he had wanted anything more he thought that younger Seifer had probably been the dumbest creature alive.

... and Quistis still thought he was a mercenary. It would be silly, though, to expect her to notice every little change.

It really, really wasn't worth trying to open his eyes, when all his blood had turned into the goo from one of those lava lamps Irvine was always trying to buy - no, check that, hot goo under twenty tons of pressure, while the rest of him felt like a badly cracked egg.

//Okay... what the hell happened?//

The last thing he remembered...

Squall waited a few moments, for his brain to pick up the slack, and was surprised when it just trailed off to nothing. Well, all right, he'd have to push, then. There'd been the fight with Edea - Matron - and if /that/ wasn't one more problem he didn't need, or know how to deal with. Everyone seemed to think that just keeping his mouth shut made him the greatest mastermind since... well, if they were using Rinoa's father as the model of a brain trust, he supposed he could understand -

//No, that's not right. All that's long past...//

All right, so there had been the parade, the prerequisite Seifer butt-kicking turned ice-spike-through-the-chest - shit, he still wasn't being tortured, was he? No... no, there'd been things after, the strange little moogles, and Rinoa... but Rinoa had twisted, had changed - sort of - and they'd...

Space, right? Into space, somewhere along the way. They'd tried to cage Rinoa too, like some butterfly, little glass jar and he couldn't - couldn't - live with that, not that sort of a place for her, so then... before or after? He had all the memories but they refused to line up, and they kept slipping when he tried to put them together.

Squall sighed, fighting with memories that fought back hard. He was getting a little tired of this Guardian Force nonsense, even if Irvine was using it to his best advantage, edging ever closer to claiming that he and Selphie had been soul mates since they were zygotes. If he didn't shut up soon, Squall would have to recruit Zell to beg Selphie to sleep with the sharpshooter and get it over with. Maybe claim that lack of sex would wreak havoc with his aim.

He snickered, and it shook the bed just enough to cause its other occupant to mutter something, the hand around his waist tightening slightly. Rinoa? Had to be. No one else, there'd never been anyone who would need to... or want to, truth be told.

It stung, but he could take it, just another part of his life. Useless and futile and stupid to think he could just turn off all his wants, even if everyone else thought he didn't have any. Love. Companionship. Who didn't want them, in one way or another? Being a lone wolf was nice and all, but sometimes it could be just a little more than he wanted to bear.

//Ellone, though, you know she didn't mean to leave you now... and Laguna, you found Laguna, right? A real father, even if he didn't make the best decisions. Not much for a family, but it's yours. More than some people ever get, even if you don't know what to do with it.//

Shit, and dealing with /that/, even thinking about dealing with that was not a thing to think about if he wanted to sleep anytime soon.

Maybe he'd had one of those bizarre past visions, though hadn't Ellone said it was all over? No way to salvage what had been? It would explain the dizziness and the inability to focus... but whatever, didn't matter, had to keep his mind on what was really important - had to defeat the Sorceress, not Matron anymore but bigger and badder... which meant he and Seifer were going to have to cross swords again.

He couldn't mention he was looking forward to it, or Quistis would thump him one, especially after all the trouble she'd had with Fuujin and Raiijin... earlier. Damn hard to place it at the moment, but at least he could say that it had happened, he remembered. Remembered he'd have to fight Seifer, and since he couldn't really spar with any of the others - hand-to-hand with Zell but Zell could hand his ass back to him without trying - he'd get a chance to use his gunblade in a real battle, against a real opponent who knew how to fight. Even if choosing the side he had seemed to be a drag on Seifer's ability, in Squall's opinion.

One of the benefits of being the silent type, he'd never be asked to explain just what he thought of Seifer. Not that - if you got right down to it - he could explain it to himself any better.

Damn, he needed to wake up. Once he was awake, this whole mess would sort itself out. Squall shifted again, and froze, as he was rewarded with an even louder grumble.

"... the hell... time is it? Not even... dammit, Headmaster or not... got seniority, can't make you work so hard. Go to sleep."

It wasn't Rinoa's voice, not even close, and the chin that nestled its way against the back of his neck was badly in need of a shave.

Squall didn't - couldn't - think, and lunged out of bed, slapping for the light - all SeeD rooms were laid out nearly the same, though he didn't recognize this one at all - and caught the glimpse of a familiar handle out of the corner of his eye. He grabbed for it as he turned, didn't realize until he was staring down the edge of the blade that it was Hyperion, not his own, and the person looking back at him from the other side of the bed was Seifer Almasy.






Author's Notes -

1. The ee cummings poem reppohssarg gives me a headache when I try to read it. So does this fic.

2. This story is for Catt, who made me like Seifer/Squall when I never, ever ever thought I would.

3. Derivitave, cliché and bad but it refuses to stop kicking me in the head. I have not played FF8 for about three-and-a-half years, so I apologize for all of this right now. ^^

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