He is running, not quite as fast as he can, because there are too many dark places in these airy corridors now, and there can only be an army of enemies for this much damage. Seifer has seen Gardens under fire - hell, /this/ Garden - and so it isn’t the rubble or sparks or bodies crumpled here and there that bothers him, but there is a presence in the air, large and dark and smothering and of course he knows what it is.
There should be monsters here, or men. He can fight both of those, but he has never had a weapon to wield against darkness and empty spaces.
The last time he felt this it drove him right off the edge, but Seifer ignores the sensible - panicked - voice telling him to turn around and run, run as fast as he can and get the fuck /out/...
He had been shifting in his seat and asking small annoying questions until Fuujin snarled “DRIVING” and gave him a look that cut like an Aero, but then they made it past the final grove of trees and saw the smoke and flickering lights from the Garden and knew... knew...
Hell, already knew, long before they’d arrived. No one sent a distress call to three mercenaries - by name - unless things were already that bad, and he is just grateful they were nearby.
Seifer knows he shouldn’t have any connection to the place but his life seems mostly made up of things he can’t help and at least this one doesn’t seem ready to turn on him, or he thought so until today.
A sneak attack on the Garden. Squall’s Garden, and that is bad enough in his mind, and he did not see Zell, or Matron or Cid before he took off down the hall and Fuujin, Fuujin who should be here doing this instead of him is now trying her best to keep Quistis alive.
Quistis, who looked up at him with blood-stained lips in a porcelain face and he couldn’t read her glassy eyes, or what she was trying to say. Others were alive, Raijin had been dragging one from under what remained of a balcony but he hadn’t had time for answers.
He has not seen Rinoa.
Seifer knows where he is going even in the half-dark, even though he can’t remember the layout of this Garden and hasn’t been here in over a year. His hand tightens on his gunblade because he shouldn’t know where his feet are taking him but he knows, he knows and damn him for not taking the chance and junctioning that black-market GF back in Balamb.
The first thing he sees when he turns the final corner is Squall’s gunblade, resting with the tip just grazing the edge of the wall, and he knows that it skittered across the floor. Knows that when it flew out of his hand Squall hadn’t been expecting the blow, hadn’t even seen it coming.
He has not seen Rinoa.
The weight in the air expands and lifts as if the entire Garden is taking a breath, and Seifer thinks again that he does not want to be here - should not be here - even as his eyes follow the hilt end of the gunblade to its owner’s outstretched hand.
Squall is lying face down on the ground and there is blood absolutely everywhere, as if a brush had been dripped in red and splattered with wide, dramatic gestures against floors and walls. Seifer’s eyes track the dripping smears up and up, stopping only a hand’s length from the ceiling.
He is on one knee and carefully turning the body - no, still Squall, he is still warm and Griever glints as it rises slightly with his breath. Blood soaked clothes are wet beneath Seifer’s hands, but except for a tiny bead of blood at the corner of his mouth, a small line from one nostril to the dip of his lip his face is untouched and it is perfect.
Seifer wanted to see Squall like this once, soundly defeated, but the thought glances off of him now, meaningless, or buries deeper, changing shape or maybe just resigned to what it always was.
It’s amazing, really, how he knows absolutely nothing about himself.
He looks up, and she is standing in the training room, the moonlight unencumbered by what remains of the glass panels lifting broken edges to the sky. The beasts inside are either dead or hiding and as he takes a few more steps inside Seifer can see his breath from the cold outside and knows they are hiding.
Rinoa is humming a very familiar song, letting it lilt sleepily against the night and the silence. He would give anything for a way to have Hyperion sliding through her chest rather than where it sits, useless, in his hand. He doesn’t understand why Rinoa isn’t at the bridge instead of here, so tactically useless, but then again he doesn’t understand any of this, not even what is right in front of him, and she turns.
“You should do something about Squall. I think he’s going to die.”
Squall wasn’t quite sure he was awake. The bed was warm enough that he’d probably been sleeping in it for a while, and had just woken up, but everything was so white and quiet it was hard to convince himself it was real.
“If you tell me there’s nothing we can do for him, I’ll smack the crap out of you, I swear it.”
Seifer. Squall grinned, couldn’t help it. The only thing he’d ever tried to temper his bluntness was silence. Seifer simply hadn’t tried.
Squall lifted a hand to rub against the bridge of his nose, paused when he noticed the grain of his skin. New lines, tanner and dusted with more freckles than he remembered. Signs of aging. The hand he’d lifted quickly slid over his eyes instead.
//Hyne... it’s real.//
He knew where he was now, inside the doctor’s office, and when he turned his head he could see just the back of a pair of shoes, until Zell leaned a bit on his heels and the back of his head came into view. Squall thought about moving, getting up... really did consider it.
“Well, ah, as far as I know, most of the recovery will be slow, and much of the work will be with on you, as those who know him best.”
Squall was fairly sure he didn’t remember the new doctor’s name even before all of this, his voice sounded awfully young. Too young to stand up to Seifer, at least. He’d have to remind him not to terrorize the poor man too much.
//Unless I already told him.// He hated the breathless rush of panic, every time he realized just how much he didn’t remember.
“I do need to speak with you, since it seems... interesting that Headmaster Leonheart’s condition has left him with his memories at the point they are. We have to... I believe we have to be prepared for the possibility that what happened with the Sorceress...”
Fighting Ultimecia had been difficult, of course, but he’d survived, they’d all survived, and he remembered quite a lot about the months after that. Nothing to suggest she hadn’t been quite dead, everything set back right, Garden returning to a less earth-shattering role in the grand scheme.
“Years ago.” That voice was Seifer’s, and he sounded truly angry now. “It was years ago. It might as well have been a lifetime-”
“You never saw what Sorceress Rinoa did to him, did you?”
“No. No, I got there too late.”
No, it wasn’t possible. It was, she /was/, but not like that. Not after the end, not when it was all over. Where was she? Had they done something to her? Hurt her?
Squall was on his feet before he realized, anger and worry keeping him on his feet while the wave of dizziness passed, though he hit the doorframe hard, leaning on it to keep his feet, and everyone looked up at him in surprise.
“Rinoa wouldn’t hurt me. She wouldn’t.”
“Squall. You shouldn’t be up so soon.”
Quistis, who scolded, even before the doctor could respond. Seifer, who didn’t bother with words and just stood up, threw a hand under his arm and dragged him back towards the bed.
“Rinoa wouldn’t... would she? What happened? What do they think she did?”
For all the questions, Squall realized he was a little relieved when Seifer wouldn’t answer him - and that relief was all the more terrifying.
“You’re not Rinoa.”
The sword comes up before he can think twice. Seifer wonders what it will do against her and the best he can hope for is that Squall is only so badly hurt because he didn’t see it coming.
Or couldn’t raise a hand against his wife.
The thought twists in him, because he only knew Rinoa for a summer and still he could see why Squall fell and fell hard. She glowed, and so did the things she loved and cherished, and the whole world, really, in close enough proximity.
Seifer had come back before once, some anniversary celebration and he’d had no intention of attending until Quistis had all but reached through the phone and grabbed him by the throat. He’d never understood why, except that seeing Rinoa and Squall together hadn’t bothered him at all, and he’d always assumed it would, at least in some small way.
It was obvious though, how well it was going to work between them, a forever love. Hard to believe it was real at first, to see the way Squall smiled and how his eyes lit up when she passed or when she said something funny or when he took her into his arms, here and there, many times throughout the night. Maybe to keep her real, maybe because he already knew she was his, he was hers.
Of course, they had danced, and well, and Squall who usually could be found at the opposite end of the Garden from a party was instead enjoying himself, just like anyone else, and it was the way things were supposed to be.
Happily ever after.
Seifer doesn’t want this to be real now, and is usually so unconcerned in moments of crisis and violence, usually fine with his mercenary role that he thinks his anger should count for something, this time.
“What happened? What did you do?”
“I thought he was my knight. I was mistaken.”
It hurts. The weighted word is like a brick tossed right into his chest and the flippant, careless way she throws it brings on a terrible rage - it had been /right/, watching her and Squall together had been right and good and what ought to have been. He isn’t stupid, knows how often it happens like that and now it is over. He is certain it is all dead and gone and Seifer isn’t sure he wants to see Squall have to open his eyes and know it and live.
“Give her back. Damn you, it isn’t worth it.”
Whatever it is, whomever this is and he can feel everything he felt before, so he /knows/ what she is. A sorceress, some other damned sorceress who’s found a way to come back with some new, old plan and he won’t be able to make her see that it doesn’t matter. Whatever she creates won’t be worth what she’s already destroyed.
“He’s getting weaker.”
“You can’t do this to him. You can’t leave.”
It doesn’t matter what he says. Rinoa is gone, the lazy, disinterested look in her eyes tells him that much. All of this has been delegated back to some distant memory for her, perhaps not even a part of her. He is determined to keep the sword on her anyway, to wait for her to act and try to cut her down but Squall gasps behind him and it is a tortured sound. He recognizes it, knows that time is running painfully short for him to do anything at all.
Two steps back, still facing her just to see that she is no longer paying much attention to him at all and so Seifer turns, drops down beside Squall who is impossibly trying to rise, more red appearing at his lips as he turns and coughs and maybe sees Seifer kneeling there.
“R-rin...oa.” A hand flexes wildly, and he grabs it, Squall’s grip painful as he chokes, and breathes, and chokes again.
Seifer can see it there, the first glimmers of realization, the knowledge deep and merciless gnawing in the back of Squall’s eyes and Seifer shifts, so that Squall can’t see her and then he hears another gasp and this has turned into far too much déjà vu but he turns anyway.
Rinoa. Rinoa watching him with those strange dead eyes but real tears falling down her face.
“Stop it. Just stop hurting her.”
“Silly boy.” The voice is soft and Rinoa’s and hard and not Rinoa’s. “Silly, silly boy, do you think I’m the reason she’s crying?”
He doesn’t know what she means by that, won’t guess until much later when Squall is asking him to stay and he does something that surprises himself but now there is just one woman weeping and a man dying in his arms and this is the whole of the universe with him stretched out in between.
He turns. Raijin is running down the hall with a SeeD he doesn’t recognize, and the minute they reach him the SeeD is down casting Curagas on Squall, one after another. He turns to see what Rinoa will do next but she is gone.
Author's Notes -
1. Originally intended as a useless three-parter, I now think this will be a useless less-than-13-parter. ... booyah.
2. I can never, ever stay in present perspective when I want to so I apologize now for errors.
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