Seifer leaves, after Garden is back in some semblance of order and everyone is present and accounted for and he doesn’t know any of the names of the deceased.
Squall is alive. Whether this is a blessing or not remains to be seen.
Selphie and Irvine arrive just as he’s on his way out. He’s amazed when they actually stop to talk to him, a rather polite conversation, though he can see the big question hovering like a neon glow in Selphie’s eyes. She is barely able to hold it back.
As if he knows what happened. As if he saw anything but the aftermath, and even that doesn’t make sense. The only one who might know what actually happened hasn’t said more than “yes” and “no” and on one rare occasion, “I’m cold.”
Or so Xu had told him, when he had asked. Seifer doesn’t want to see Squall just yet, not sure what to say or what not to say or what might prompt him to even visit besides morbid curiosity. He wants a better reason than that.
Shadows. The rest of the Garden swears they were attacked by shadows and at the moment everyone is blaming Rinoa because it’s likely true.
Selphie seems ready to explode with curiosity, and so he finally tells her he’s told Quistis the little he knows, and she’s better off getting answers from her. Rinoa hasn’t come back and there’s been no sign of her and Ellone’s just as lost as Matron and Laguna’s already on his way. Wrapping up some meeting early and coming out - Squall’s father, Seifer had found out, and although he isn’t sure how much good it will do he supposes it’s better late than never.
Raiijin yells at him from outside and Seifer quickly makes his goodbyes.
He comes back almost as soon as he leaves. He doesn’t realize he never really left, spending the three days afterward just pacing, staring toward the Garden off over the horizon and reliving Squall bleeding on the ground and Rinoa with that horrible, hollow voice telling him offhand, she thinks she’s killed him.
He nearly walks right into Fuujin on his sixteenth turn across the room, not noticing until he’s standing on the tips of her shoes.
It doesn’t do well to argue with her, so he doesn’t even try.
“Do you know what happened to... Laguna Loire?”
Squall looked surprised that he knew, just for a moment, before he remembered where and when they were. It was jolting, these old speech patterns, although Seifer could remember when they were familiar. When Squall spent most of his time in a distant silence only to bring up a sudden question without preamble.
He wasn’t comfortable, they were all trying to remember that. The man with them now wasn’t Squall Leonhart, veteran Headmaster but Squall Leonhart just-fresh-from-saving-the-world and still damn wary about everyone in it.
Seifer knew he’d take it over the Squall that came after, the Squall that followed in Rinoa’s wreckage, any day. Seifer is sure he’s not the only one wondering how they’re going to get through this, once Squall has remembered everything that happened.
... and what might happen, if he remembers more than that.
“Still alive, all three of them. Esthari technology is pretty advanced, so they’re doing fine, really. You could call him up sometime, if you wanted to.”
The call had already been made, either way. Laguna had a tendency to show up at the worst possible times and so Quistis already beat him to any surprise visits. Explained that all the reconciliation, the bruised feelings between them that only apologies and time could heal - it meant nothing, now. Squall did not remember it, or him, and there was no guarantee when he might regain what he’d lost. Seifer had little sympathy, they were all dealing with this now so the old man might as well take his share too.
Needless to say, Laguna did not handle it well, and Kiros ended up taking most of the call.
“You two talk more now, you know... more than you used to. He probably would like to hear that you’re all right.”
“No, not now.”
Quistis had thought to warn him just for this reason, Squall slowly shaking his head, the slight sliver of a frown on an otherwise expressionless face. The wounds were fresh for him, and Seifer had seen him go through some of that pain the first time, though most of that had been swept away by Rinoa’s unexpected betrayal.
“She just... left, then? Rinoa?”
It wasn’t as if Squall and he ever actually had entire conversations, especially not about each other. Over such a long period of time, he just gathered bits and pieces of the other man here and there, every once in a while being smacked soundly over the head by something Squall just assumed he’d always known. Seifer thought it had probably gone about the same way concerning him.
//Except now. He doesn’t know anything about you, now.//
Seifer hadn’t even asked before moving all his stuff into the room next door, and Squall had never mentioned his departure. He hadn’t asked many questions about anything, Quistis had let Seifer know, and most of those had been about his job. About the world they lived in now, which ways the power had swayed. Impersonal queries, distancing himself from the world and from himself and damn if Seifer wasn’t tired of all this on the third time around. At least the first time, he hadn’t had to care, and trading blows with Sir-Stick-Up-His-Ass had been relatively amusing and an easy break from the monotony of life as perpetual SeeD trainee.
Seifer didn’t want to go back to that, not really, but it would have been nice to keep just a little of that distance. He could have pretended it didn’t hurt.
“Yes. Rinoa left. No one saw her go. After... that night, there’s been no sign of her. Matron and Ellone didn’t know-”
//Matron and Ellone didn’t tell...//
“Ellone? Is she-”
“Still alive. Still in Esthar.”
Seifer sighed as Squall nodded but said nothing more. He wouldn’t let it touch him, that he knew Squall would talk to Ellone long before him. Wouldn’t let it sting that Squall would sit here and say nothing and flinch when he got too close, let alone when he forgot and tried to touch him. Damn it, he wasn’t even much for affection, not like Zell or god forbid the conjoined IrvineSelphy that seemed to show up anytime they had a spare moment together.
Seifer had long since kept himself to public hallways and busy courtyards in Trabia Garden, and always - always - remembered to knock before entering any room.
No, they weren’t like that - thank Hyne - and this wasn’t like it had been before, either. He had to remember that. It was a medical condition this time, the product of Squall being too damn unlucky and too responsible to be afraid of losing himself for good in a summon.
A medical condition, not a punishment, not Squall being distant because he hated himself, needed Seifer and hated himself for it, hated everything. Leaving Seifer with nothing to do but snarl and wander because he couldn’t be Rinoa, couldn’t help and couldn’t leave completely and damn, damn it had all been said and done long ago. Fixed and worked through and survived...
//You’d call that fixed? When he doesn’t even know... all of it?//
It wasn’t just his decision, not what had been hidden from Squall then and what hadn’t even been mentioned now. If it had been, Seifer would have carried the shame always, but it had been all of them who had done it. All together, and even Matron, even she had looked in his eyes and told him to save Squall from himself. If she were alive today, she wouldn’t blame him.
//If he remembers... if he remembers now...//
He needed to talk to Quistis, before anything he was feeling found a name and a place inside to haunt him. Like hurt, like staring at Squall and knowing it made him uncomfortable, that the other man knew he was watching but refused to look back.
“You can borrow my phone, if you want to call her.”
“Thank you... Seifer,” and this time it was Squall who stared at him, and he was the one who couldn’t meet that gaze.
He arrives back at Balamb Garden just in time to find that Squall is leaving. Laguna has arrived, and he has no idea what plans have been discussed or with whom, but Squall is leaving with him, today. Xu is the first person he can catch, and explains that Squall is going - her eyes tip slightly down, explaining what words won’t - because ‘recovery’ can be a fast thing when Curagas are plentiful and time is short, but the things Squall is recovering from spells can’t touch. Maybe from a GF could, but that isn’t really recovery and he’s not allowed to take one with him anyway. He needs rest, and time.
... and to not be reminded of Rinoa every time he turns down a hallway.
Xu says they’re taking him down a back exit, at a time when most of the SeeDs and the trainees are gone but everyone knows what’s happening anyway. Everyone knows, and she shoots him a distinct, distrustful look that says that if everyone didn’t know, she wouldn’t be letting him follow her. Seifer shrugs it off, remembers a time when he wouldn’t have but doesn’t feel his situation has improved so much.
Parts of being a Sorceress’ knight were much, much better than this. Too bad the rest of it... he stops there, no point in thinking further.
No point, except that the Garden is still on high alert with Rinoa somewhere on the loose, and there are many guards posted nearby as Squall is led out. Seifer can see a few suspicious glances turned his way, but Xu shakes her head and they leave him alone. He has gone a long way to redeeming himself but he isn’t there yet.
Squall looks as if he is barely holding on to being himself at all, managing the bare movements of walking and breathing and keeping his eyes open only because his pride will allow no less. Seifer can see the dark circles under his eyes, the thinness from the injuries and the blood loss and has anyone remembered to /feed/ him?
Xu shrugs off the sarcastic question. Squall does as he wants and ‘forgets’ unless the doctors tell him directly to eat and sometimes sits for hours and hours in the middle of the night just staring at the sky. They’ve given him pills but she’s sure he isn’t taking them and really, would he? The only time Dr. Kadowaki suggested therapy, Squall shot her a look that nearly broke the window behind her.
Pills. Therapy. Seifer isn’t sure what Squall needs but knows it’s much closer to the hilt of the gunblade he probably can’t take with him than anything the doctors can do.
Seifer has no idea what Laguna’s supposed to bring to all of this, even if they are related. Kiros is the one with an arm around Squall as he suddenly loses his balance - wounded, exhausted, hard to tell - and Squall allows it because Kiros is someone relatively unknown and right now the only people he wants to see are strangers.
Seifer doesn’t move, doesn’t barely do more than shift where he stands, but somehow Squall picks him out anyway, right before they turn the corner and vanish into the presidential motorcade. Blue eyes meet his and Seifer has no idea what Squall is thinking, maybe nothing at all and just staring, or maybe it’s meaningful and he wants to share. Maybe a question, about what happened that night when Seifer found him nearly dead and Rinoa singing songs in the moonlight, his blood on her hands even though they were pale and clean and flawless.
Whatever it is, he doubts he’ll ever find out. He blinks twice and Squall is gone.
“It’s so... it’s familiar, but at the same time, I don’t recognize...”
This. Them. Any of them. Not Quistis or Zell or Xu or any of them, even though they’re no different than before. Not Seifer, and that... /that/ he just can’t think about right now.
“It’s worse this way. In some ways, it’s so much worse than if they were strangers.”
He doesn’t want to confide in anyone, and even Ellone feels like a stranger, but if he doesn’t have to look at her he can pretend she hasn’t changed, that the rougher burr in her voice is just phone static, or his imagination.
“I know what happened, they called and... and you know, I do understand a little of what it must feel like.”
“I know you do. It’s not, I’m just...”
“It’s all right, Squall. No one expects you to just dust yourself off after all of this.” He nodded, forgetting she couldn’t see it, and stops pacing, sliding down against the beam until he was sitting on the floor. The hallway is empty, everything down this wing closed for the evening. He often ended up here as a cadet, after curfew when he couldn’t sleep, when none of the places others skipped sleep for had anything he wanted or needed.
He could see the stars here, even through the glass and the reflected lights from overhead. The darkness was calm and soothing, and it was enough just to rest his head and try to trace the outlines of the night, the barest difference in shades between cloud and sky.
Squall reached back, tipped his head forward and pulled Griever from around his neck, propping his elbow up on one knee to study it. The chain was warm, wrapped around his neck and now his hand, and he watched it absently as it swung, just slightly. A Guardian Force, hidden there, though there had been no sign of it after that battle. Funny, all of his life seemed hidden like that, just beyond what he needed at the time - no one telling him why Ellone went away, and then losing most of his other memories with his first Guardian Force. His father, the president of Esthar, hidden in plain view in a city no one could see.
Rinoa. Hyne, Rinoa, when he’d thought it was all over, /had/ to be over... and Griever jingled and swayed as his hand went to the place on his lip where Seifer said he’d been bleeding, the night she’d left him.
“You’re awful quiet.”
He smiled, Ellone’s voice always holding the power to make him feel normal. As if all his problems were small ones, and a story or a hug or a stolen bedtime cookie could make everything all right again.
“Ah hell, I hurt. I don’t expect to feel like this, you know? I picked my gunblade up today at the wrong angle and nearly sprained every muscle in my arm.” He could hear Ellone chuckle, but it was only polite. She knew what he wasn’t saying, so he might as well say it.
“Matron’s dead, Ellone. Cid too... and a few other SeeDs I used to know. Some battle, Seifer said, some other crisis like every other one. I didn’t, I mean, I expected... I understand that it happens, but it’s like I’ve lost them all over again.”
//Turn twice and they’re gone. Just like Ellone left you, just like your mother and Laguna and Rinoa.//
If he hadn’t trusted anyone, he wouldn’t be hurting now. It was a fact that stayed in the back of his mind, no matter how irrational Squall tried to tell himself it was. He’d opened up for Rinoa and that had turned out to be the biggest mistake of his life - and after that, there had been no way to close down, no way to stop. The only way to make the pain ease was by letting someone else in, and all that did was open himself up for even more pain.
Squall tried to imagine how he had stayed with Seifer for as long as they had, but it was still a reality just beyond the reach of his best logic. He doubted he’d done a very good job.
“... and Rinoa, of course.” Ellone’s voice was tender. “It must be a lot to take in, all of these changes, all at once.”
“I still don’t remember her, you know. They tried to tell me what happened, but I didn’t... it didn’t stick, it didn’t mean anything. I can’t imagine... I keep expecting to see her around every corner. I don’t have any idea what it’s going to feel like, to have to say goodbye to her. It just feels like... dread, now.”
Seifer knew. It was an ever-present fear in the back of the man’s eyes, and for all his faults and flaws, Squall could only describe his former rival as fearless. He had not backed down on that training field, so long ago when Squall had rushed him with his sword sweeping up - Seifer knew what was coming, and he had not taken a single step back. If knowing what Squall would go through had scared him, the gnawing pit of foreboding he already was carrying wasn’t nearly enough.
“Is everything else all right?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Guardian Force. Are you feeling any other effects?”
“No. Headaches, occasionally.”
//A deep desire not to sleep with Seifer Almasy.// The thought was horrible and rude and mean and he had to cover his mouth with a hand to keep from laughing and confusing Ellone. Hyne, he’d become a SeeD knowing he’d have to face more problems than he had answers for, but nothing quite like this.
“No, Ellone. I’m fine, really.” His father’s name was a silent question, there, that he should mention him or she would... but not tonight. Just not tonight.
“I guess I should let you go, then. It’s late and I... I- oh Hyne...“
“Oh, fuck... help me.”
Squall watched in horrified fascination, as he fumbled his grip on Griever’s chain, and the pendant slipped from his hand - and did not move, did not fall. Frozen, and the sound of the air slowly squeezing from his lungs was the only thing left to hear.
“Ellone?” No answer. Squall tongued the roof of a paper dry mouth. His voice was a croak so tight he couldn’t recognize it. “Sis?”
The corridors of his mind were as blank and empty as the halls of the Garden - but he thought, just for a moment, he could hear the faintest click of footsteps, distant echoes of someone stirring, wandering...
One trembling hand reached for Griever. The world was so dark, and so still, and his pulse was beating loud and fast in his throat. The very last sound before the end of the world.
//... my knight?// It wasn’t his voice. It was hers. He could feel the space stretching out, time and distance and all that had separated them opening up. He could see her on the other side, and she was staring right back at him.
His finger grazed Griever’s edge, and the spell was broken. Squall watched the pendant fall, skittering across the floor. Normal, harmless - but the wall of silence it had broken was collapsing all around him now, cold and empty and he could not escape it. He was trapped.
“Squall!? Squall, are you there?!”
Ellone’s voice. A part of him realized he was still holding the phone - //why didn’t she answer when you called out for her// - but he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think past one terrified cry as the silence went for his chest and throat and heart and - squeezed - and darkness rose up and he was lost.
Author's Notes -
1. Seriously meant to kill Laguna off, but then he looked at me and asked how, and then I realized that probably meant killing Kiros too so now they’re just all crotchety old men because Kiros is by far my favorite character.
2. I am going to explode trying to keep the two storylines straight now. Everything in italics is in the past, but it all wants to be in present tense. Everything in normal font is the now, but wants to be in the past tense. Oi. Oi oi oi.
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