Chapter Twelve

By Twig

Real life was the only thing full of so much empty space, so many long pauses, illogical acts that would never make it into a story worth watching. If this /were/ a story, Seifer thought, he would never have let Squall leave. Or he would have - after a much longer, more passionate argument - but a storm would have come up, or a monster attack, anything to keep him here, and safe.

Careful editing, important pan shots and close ups, perhaps a tasteful, slow-motion kiss between Quistis and Xu, just for ratings. He would have had the option, the chance to tell Squall hell no, fuck no, you are /not/ going.

//What the hell is Laguna thinking? He can't possibly be so spooked about public opinion. Hell, how could there public opinion about this in the first place?//

There would be, if Rinoa started up where Edea had left off.

//... and there's no one /else/ that can play hero this time?//

He was raging, they all were, which was the reason no one had said anything after Squall was gone, everyone quietly going their separate ways. He didn't dare look up when he walked out, knew he'd catch at least one pitying look and he was too old to drive his hand through walls when he was upset.

Seifer stood in Squall's room - their room - stood right in the center, unable to touch anything. Truth be told, he wasn't even /looking/ too hard, letting his eyes flick from space to space without catching. Squall had always been amazed by his near-total lack of stuff, and although he didn't have any great assortment of personal belongings either, everything Seifer glanced at was a claw-tipped reminder of who wasn't here, bludgeoning him until he just closed his eyes.

//Why didn't you stop him? You knew, you /knew/...//

He knew now, what was going to happen, and because he knew he hadn't pushed the White SeeD before, hadn't gone in for the details of what they would do. Squall had rushed him past it for the same reason - if he had to hear it out loud, Seifer never would have let it happen. Squall had volunteered for all those things they did to contain sorceresses... or worse.

//Kill him. They'll kill him while you sit here stomping around like an idiot.//

No. No way Laguna would go that far, not all at once, not even to save the world. Oh Hyne, but all they'd need was one determined soldier, one White SeeD who would find it all too necessary to just eliminate the problem entirely. One person to push things too far, and Squall wouldn't stop them, just like he hadn't stopped the White SeeD from taking him in the first place.

//Damn you, Leonhart.// Damn him for everything that made Seifer care about him, the things that had made them enemies the first time around. The selflessness to put the Garden, the world before himself. The near-suicidal courage to step off like that, into the unknown, alone. The wisdom to see what Seifer could not - refused to - that whatever the SeeD were going to do was likely the best alternative.

//Oh, maturity is a fucking fool's game. After all this time, Squall, I /do/ have some right to decide whether you just sacrifice yourself like this.//

A realization that would have helped him out much more /before/ Squall had left them all behind, yes? Earnest blue eyes stared out of Seifer's memory, like Squall had been already been gone for years, forever. Strong and steady blue eyes... and frightened as hell.

//You made a mistake, letting him go. What matters now is what you do about it.//

Seifer stood very still, balancing not on the balls of his feet or the heels but some impossible middle space, just ahead of the arch. It itched a little, poised at the brink. Hyperion gleamed, welcoming as always, from where it lay against the side table. He would have liked his old coat, if he was about to engage in some truly subversive, dangerous behavior, but he couldn't even remember what had happened to it.

//... don't even steady yourself, just do it.//

He took his blade up, and grabbed Squall's from the closet as well. One of the benefits of sleeping with the Headmaster, there were very few security cameras on this floor, no one worried about what Squall might do to his own Garden. Seifer knew where the rest of the security setups were, most of them unchanged since he'd been a cadet. It was nighttime, most everyone was asleep or studying late, and those who did see him were the younger SeeD trainees, at a safe distance from anything worth knowing, to realize he was being at all suspicious or do much about it.

//If Quistis didn't figure out I'd snap, she's been wearing her hair too tight again.// He could almost see the expression on Xu's face when she heard the news, the same sort of pursed-up disapproval-tastes-like-lemon-juice face she always got when anyone did something stupid.

Funny, though, he didn't think either of them would have disapproved. He was simply the only one who could act on his own, 'most likely to be branded a loose cannon,' no matter what his age. Given their position in the Garden it was more likely to look like an act of war if Quistis or Xu had taken a stand against Esthar. Irvine too, with Selphie as the head of Trabia.

... and there was no way in hell he was inviting Zell along.

Seifer carefully made his way along a back hallway, used mostly by cleaning staff and dead silent at this time of night. Yes, he had every reason to suspect that, whatever the Garden's official position, Quistis and the rest of them would have no complaint when he dragged Squall back home. At the very least, they would be tucked away silently like proper fugitives until Esthar could be appeased and some other solution could be found.

Hell, he'd bet even odds Laguna had been strong-armed into this entire affair. If he was thankful enough, maybe he'd even consider granting some amnesty...

//You're not drunk enough for optimism.//

It was pitch black beyond the glow of the lights of the Garden, but Seifer was well acquainted with the area. It wouldn't take so long to reach the shore by foot, the nearest harbor. Find a boat, /steal/ a boat...

He was so preoccupied with the details of the upcoming theft that when a hand tapped his shoulder sharply he stumbled, and nearly fell down the stairs. A hand quickly caught him by the waistband of his pants, holding him until he could find his feet. Seifer turned sharply, unsure of what he was going to yell at Quistis but intrigued by the possibilities.


Pale hair flashed in the light, not Quistis' shade at all.

"Not /funny/, Fuu." Seifer glared at her, while his heart hovered musingly between beats, before deciding that giving him a heart attack would likely be kinder than he deserved.

"What are you doing here?"

The answer was a hug, warm and entirely unreserved, an explanation meant just for him, with all the information he needed. He grinned, hugged her back carefully, hand quietly going numb beneath the weight of two gunblades. It wasn't even a question, if he had no one in the world to count on, he could count on her.

"You just got here?"


"Do you know what's going on?"


"So, she saw me leaving." Nice to know he wasn't the only one letting his emotions triumph over reason.

Fuujin nodded, took Squall's gunblade when he handed it to her. Her hands so thin but so strong, with knuckles like knots, waiting patiently as he shook the feeling back into his own.

"So, did she happen to mention which dock might have the best boat to... appropriate?"

The woman jerked a thumb over her shoulder, turning on a heel. Fuujin had abandoned most of the words she never used much, the same way she had streamlined everything else in her life. She looked very good, though they never discussed those sorts of things. Thinner than he had remembered, even from a few months ago, leaner and tougher and stronger every time he saw her, the years whittling down on anything that wasn't entirely essential. She glowed, fierceness and light, and Seifer thought it must have always been so, and he simply kept forgetting.

"Did I steal you away from all your fun?"

Last he'd heard, she was working as a private bodyguard, amassing what must have been quite a tidy fortune. No kids, still, and no steady relationships - unless making eyes at Quistis until Xu turned red counted for anything.


"We had a trip planned, you know. Before all hell broke loose."

Seifer glanced away because he knew what kind of stare she was giving him. He could accept compassion coming from her, but he really didn't want it. Save the soft emotions for later, when he had Squall back and could afford to be truly afraid of what might have been.

He didn't say a word, heard her follow him, and they moved toward the shore. It didn't take long to find the boat at all, Fuujin soon taking the lead, going straight to it. Pre-stolen. Just what he could expect from her.

"Shiver me bones... and timbers. Bony timbers."

A little less expected, to see Jayne sprinting from bow to stern, catching her hands in the netting and leaning most of her weight over the side, grinning broadly at them. His plan was starting to feel somewhat less grand and rebellious. Was he the /last/ person to know he would go after Squall?

"You're not going. Your father would kill me."

Or at least load up his paintball gun, and Hyne if he hadn't had enough of /that/ payback for one lifetime. Jayne gave him the look she always did, whenever he said 'no'.

"You need me. I've got the long-range weapon. Hi, Aunt Fuujin."

They were sharing the same grin. Not a good sign. Seifer sighed, grimacing. Jayne kept talking, more uncaring than oblivious to her uncle's protests.

"Dad doesn't know yet. Mom does, and she's fully prepared to apologize for my youthful indiscretions. Naughty girl, going against the Esthari government. Naughty, naughty acts of war."

Exactly like her mother. It wasn't the first time Seifer wondered how Squall had gotten through it all without putting Selphie through a wall. He knew he could argue this, or accept the inevitable. Fuujin was already on her way to board.

"You're responsible for all of your father's gray hairs, and some of mine."

Seifer glared, she grinned back, unrepentant. Typical. No use arguing, she /was/ a SeeD, and a sniper, and Seifer knew she had earned the attitude that left her swaggering across the deck, as he and Fuujin got aboard and quickly lifted the anchor.

"Did Laguna tell your mother to stop the SeeD? Was this an order?" Oddly ridiculous as he seemed, sometimes, Laguna also had balls of steel, and startlingly good timing. Jayne's eyes widened in a way that made his stomach lurch.

"Nobody told you yet? Laguna never knew. Laguna didn't send the White SeeD for Squall, they're acting entirely on their own."

"Well," Seifer could actually feel his blood pressure going up, though his voice stayed astonishingly calm. "I feel better about borrowing the boat, then."

Quistis had known what he would do all along, from the moment she found out about Laguna and the SeeD. It was just as expedient, though, to tell Jayne and Fuujin as to let him know - when they would have gotten in an argument, because she was Trepe of the Trepies and he was Seifer Almasy.

Quistis was too damn smart for her own good.

Jayne already had the ship moving - a better driver than her mother was, that was for sure. Seifer helped Fuujin set the tack that didn't catch automatically, their movements swift and sure even under limited light. Dance partners in the twilight. How the hell did he think he could have done this alone?

"Thank Hyne you're here, Fuu."

Her smile was brighter than the moon, and he let himself bask in it, before turning back toward Jayne.

"They'll have to go to Esthar, or nearby. There's only a few places I know of that still do any sort of Sorceress research. They'll likely stick to the coves, but they know that area better than anyone. We've got to find them before they can disappear."

"We'll sail all night. The ship's smaller and faster than theirs." Jayne tipped up one shoulder in a half-shrug, it wasn't a guarantee they would catch them, but it was all any of them could do.


Seifer let out a long sigh, letting the automatic impulse to protest pass as the boat moved onto smooth water and the shore drifted away into the vagueness of the horizon. Fuujin was right, it would be hours before they'd even be able to catch up enough to search, and sacking away at least a few hours would be preferable to having to sit around thinking, worrying.

Worse than just unproductive, worrying would scatter his focus, and cost him everything at the end of things. The human mind was an exceptionally stupid thing, for being able to fractal out a problem into infinitely bad outcomes, when in the end, no matter what happened, only one bad outcome could ever actually come true.

//Squall is going to die, and you're going to watch.//

/Hyne/, Seifer sighed, trying to force a full breath into his lungs, feeling it twist in him, oh boy /that/ was unnecessary.

He nodded to Fuu, to do something with his body, to stop /thinking/, and went below deck to the sound of Jayne humming whatever had been popular in Trabia that week. He was slightly surprised to hear boots on the stairs behind him, while he picked out the sleeping quarters entirely by chance from a set of three closed doors.

"You need something, Fuu?"


"... just the one bed."


Mother hen. Fuujin would have tore his tonsils out around his spine if he'd said it to her face, but he'd had the chance to laugh about it with Raijin on more than one occasion. Time and distance did nothing, their relationship would always be the same. There was only the one somewhat normal-sized bed anyway, and he'd happily regulated his thirties to the end of the time he was going to end up sleeping on the floor, or wedged onto the edge of an ironing board.

"GOOD?" Fuujin lay behind him, one arm around his waist, chin tucked against his shoulder. It felt familiar enough, mercenaries didn't always end up in the most comfortable surroundings, and they'd had to develop a few sleeping patterns for getting even a handful of hours rest in extremely confined spaces.

Seifer could see just the edge of her face when he turned his head, pale hair and crow's feet around her eyes, matching thin lines around her mouth but for some reason Fuujin never looked old.

"Too bad Raijin's not here. He was one hell of a blanket."

Keeping his mind on the olden days kept him from having to think of who else wasn't here, now. He thought he was working with a pretty good poker face, but a hand against his arm brought that hope to an abrupt halt.


"I know. I do, it's just... dammit, he's my other half, Fuu."

He didn't want it to come out romantic, it was just the truth. Squall was all the things he once had thought he'd never need, and they'd been together for so long, what was he supposed to do if Squall didn't come back? What was he supposed to do, when everything felt so /wrong/? How was he supposed to do anything, when the part of his life that kept him balanced went missing?

Fuujin pecked the back of his neck with a kiss, wrapping her arms tighter around him, and he took what she was offering, warmth and strength, some warning murmur of his own telling him he was going to need all of his reserves, if he had any hope of finishing things right.

The little girl was sitting half out of the shadows, on the other side of the room. A room that now seemed much, much too small. Squall could hear her weeping, and the darkness wasn't nearly enough to conceal the fact that she had no eyes, and the limbs she lifted to her face were blunted, decked with crimson splotches and cut away bare past the wrist.

He would be screaming if he could, but whatever the SeeD had drugged him with made any sort of movement impossible. He was out of reserves for thought, or compassion, or trying to understand. The only thing in his mind was a litany in blank verse, terror - Hyne do not let her come any closer.

Distantly, maybe, a light came on, burning at the edge of his vision. Not in this world. The drugs had left him little space to move his head or even blink. The reality of this crying child was all that mattered now.

//It is this world.//

Squall had no right to know what he knew, and the awareness was crushed his lungs, every breath an increasing effort. No right to know these phantoms - sorceresses - these were sorceresses, even when they were children, and when Rinoa discovered that he could see them, that he knew...


Squall shivered, watched the child fade from sight, still sobbing with that horrible, disfigured face, the terrible empty space where tiny hands should have been. Oh, that had been done to her, done to her by people frightened by her power, by what she had done or could have done, hadn't been allowed to do.

It wasn't all they had done to her, either.

//I'm sorry. I'm sorry.// He wanted to reach for her even as she vanished, shame driving through him like his own gunblade at his pathetic, delayed remorse. So impressive for a solider, a battle-hardened SeeD, cowering from the ghost of a mutilated child.

//Will it be like that with Rinoa too? Weeping and wailing after the fact?//


Trembling and terrified, the tears finally slid over his cheeks though Squall was too weak to do more than blink at them, try not to choke as his chest heaved against the growing tightness.

Because there was absolutely no way this could end well.


More brightness, something rough and soft wiping the tears off his face, a light being shone into his eyes, that he hissed against, tried to turn away from. Too bright. A brand pressed against his face - too hot - Squall sucked in his next breath and the touch was quickly jerked away.

"Hyne, he's like ice. Lift him up, we've got to get him warm."

The voice moved, he tried to follow it, but the tears were still clogging his sight, everything was glittering and blurry and he understood none of it. Movement, enough to make his stomach churn. He was being thrown or dropped and braced himself - only to be settled once more, and it felt as if someone was holding him up, warming his hands.

"We don't know what the long-term effects of the serum might be. It was never tested like this. We've got to let him come down before we put anything else into him."

"They're already following us, they've got his scent. The other ship says they've seen /things/ out there... the only hope we've got is making him invisible, and there's not another way to do it."

"I did not sign on to kill a legend."

Legend? What legend? He was growing damn tired of legends. The hands had moved on from warming him to just letting him rest, stroking his hair soothingly, something he didn't have to question or understand, just enjoy...

//Seifer?// He tried to remember, but it was a tabula rasa, no idea of how Seifer would touch him like this, because Squall hadn't let him, because it had been important at the time but seemed ludicrously trivial now -

The voices were still talking, but Squall had stopped listening, wishing the fingers in his hair would lull him to sleep, the warmth was very nice - but the longer he lay there, the more it seemed as if they were plucking at him, muscle and bone shivering, aching at the touch, and he finally had the strength to lift his head.

"Don't worry, Squall." Rinoa smiled, top teeth biting down ever so lightly on a lip burnished like withered roses. "You're mine, you always will be, no matter what these idiots think. I'll have you with me again, soon."

He screamed, lunging backward with limbs still caught in the blankets. Unable to slow his fall, he hit the floor hard, a blast of pain from his elbow making him cry out, one wrist bending painfully against his ribcage.


A flurry of motion, hands around his, pulling him up. He twisted to look, to see - Rinoa was gone, the girl still gone, no more ghosts.

For the moment.

"Please, Headmaster, stop fighting. We're not trying to hurt you."

Not entirely true, but it was a moot point either way. He couldn't be hurt by them, not compared with what was happening to him already. Not compared to Rinoa.

"Did you see her? Either of them? Did you see them?"

Squall could hear the note of hysteria in his own voice, the sort of note that made all sorts of alarm bells ring - here there be lunatics. It made his stomach drop, though, because they were not staring at him as if he were at all insane.

"Where is she? What did she do?" Squall was amazed to feel his teeth chatter. "I thought you said you could stop her."

"It's going to be all right. Come on, you need to rest." A hand on his arm. Squall knew he must have been more out of it than he thought, he never saw the needle coming, only felt the sting. He would have been angry at the calm words, trying to soothe when they both knew it was a lie. He could hear the edge of fear in the White SeeD's voice, though. Afraid, terribly afraid, and she was young and he was old and she was a soldier and he was a legend, she had said so. Still, the very best they could do at the moment was prop up the dam inside his mind and pray it didn't burst. Plug the leaks and grit their teeth and listen to it creak and moan against the building pressure.

"If you have to, please-" Hard to speak, too weak and tired, and Squall gasped for air and struggled to keep the words together. He was sagging between whomever was holding him up, the darkness rushing at him but at least Rinoa wouldn't be there. The creature that still wore her face, and let glimpses of her shine through, just to hurt him more. She wasn't there... but for how long?

"If you have to kill me, do it. If it's too dangerous to keep me alive, do it..."

//... and tell Seifer I'm sorry.// He struggled to get the words out, but they followed him down, unspoken.

Seifer snapped awake, the nightmare immediately pushed back, out of reach, though he already knew what he must have been dreaming of, the way his body was tense and breathless, as if he had been running all-out in his sleep. The word he would have cried out, if he hadn't woken up just as Squall had shattered, all their fighting for nothing.

//Stop worrying. It doesn't do anything. You'll find him, you'll get him out of there. You'll come up with a plan.// He quickly amended that. //Fuujin will come up with a plan.//

Where was she now? Not still sleeping behind him, the indent she'd made just warm enough that he couldn't tell when she'd left. He must have been more tired than he'd thought, not to hear her move or feel her get up. Seifer winced, stretching out muscles that had been waiting patiently to tell him what they thought of sleeping in something other than a normal sized bed.

The door was open a crack, and Fuujin was already busy in the room across the hall. Seifer couldn't tell whether he'd slept for an hour or five, but /something/ seemed to be happening now.

The other room was near wall-to-wall electronics, the sorts of things that probably shouldn't have been on a boat like this. The sorts of things one could use to count craters on distant planets, with the right satellite feeds and a little bit of maneuvering.

"You know," Seifer sighed, shaking his head at the panels of blinking lights, "if I have to keep one-upping myself to keep Quistis out of my rebellions..."


Seifer stepped closer, leaning over her shoulder. He assumed they were the slow moving dot along the pale green, glowing coastline, and that the other motionless dot was the SeeD ship.


"I guess Jayne wasn't kidding about the whole Esthar thing, hm? They must be trying to come up with an alternate route, where Laguna's men won't find them." Seifer wondered what the terrain looked like past the faint outline of the cove. Would they still try to go wherever it was they were headed by sea, or move inland?

//As if it matters, I'm not letting them get there.//

Fuujin's hand was on his own, squeezing gently.

"Does he still not remember you?"

He kept forgetting her single-syllable tone was choice, not design, and the caring in her words threatened to break what he realized was a rather tenuous resolve. Giving up Squall to his own confusion, keeping his distance had been difficult enough. Giving him up to the unknown had been too much for anyone to ask for, even the world. He cleared his throat as carefully as he could, though they both knew it was a false control.

"I'll get him back. I'll find a way"

A rap from above, Jayne's knuckles against the roof. Seifer blinked, couldn't help the small grin.

"I think that might have been the signal? Did we have a signal?"

Fuujin's returning smile was just as wry. When did the Disciplinary Committee ever need a signal? Or a plan?



Author's Notes -

1. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is my pick for a real-life Fuujin. Especially after X-2.

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