Chapter Fourteen

By Twig

"You shouldn't have done this."

Squall was sitting below deck, blanket around his shoulders, sipping slowly on a cup of water Fuujin had produced from somewhere. It wasn't the first time he wondered why she wasn't a Sorceress.

"Hm?" He shrugged, disbelieving his own nonchalance. "I thought it went rather well. Everyone's still alive, the whole thing went off without a hitch."

Squall had perfected his angry glare at age eight, and Seifer had seen him hone it on many things - himself included - to insure it stayed razor sharp.

"You know that's not what I meant."

True, Seifer hadn't gone below deck for quite a while because he didn't want to have this conversation. Squall was supposed to be asleep when he did. Whatever they'd given him wasn't supposed to wear off, and they'd get back to Garden without ever having to try making conversation out of unbearable tension and split-second decisions.

It wasn't as if he'd completely forgiven Squall for going along with it in the first place.

"The SeeD were renegade. Esthar knew nothing. I'm sure they've been researching their solutions, there's got to be some way..."

"Rinoa's getting stronger. Letting them take me was the only chance we had to stop her."

Seifer wasn't going to discuss what that entailed, that Squall /knew/ what would happen to him when he agreed to go. Hyne knew how many arguments between the two of them could still make him go from zero to spastic faster than anyone alive.

"At least for now. You were sacrificing yourself for what was probably a temporary solution."

He gently set a few vials on the bed, the dip of the blankets leaving them to roll and rest against Squall's thigh.

"Fuu took these from the White SeeD. Once we get back to Garden, we'll find a way to give you something that /doesn't/ leave you looking like pounded tonberry, and then we'll work from there."

Squall set down the water glass, too deliberately, and rubbed his eyes hard with his fingertips.

"If we even get back to Garden. The SeeD were double-dosing me there, and they seemed pretty damned panicked. Rinoa's..." He shivered, and Seifer tried not to flinch. "I don't know how much longer she'll stay away, no matter what."

Seifer's hand tightened around Hyperion, he still hadn't let it go, hadn't felt easy enough to set it down even with the SeeD ship out of sight. "Well then, I guess we're going to have to rumble."

He didn't know what he was expecting. It certainly wasn't Squall on his feet, so close they were almost nose-to-nose, looking as if it was all he could do not to tear him to pieces. It took him a moment to realize the emotion warring with anger in his eyes was blind panic.

"You are so fucking stupid! I can't even believe you'd risk this, yourself and Fuujin and the kid. Irvine's kid, damn it! You could have been killed - and you don't even know how to stop the Sorceress! How do you know she's not just going to kill you? Kill us all!? It was a chance, even if something happened to me, even if I had to die. It was better-"

"Shut the fuck up." Seifer was surprised, both that he growled out the words and that Squall actually stopped speaking. "Just shut the fuck up. How dare you act so high and mighty with that noble self-sacrificing bullshit. Did you even think how you might be hurting people, letting those bastards do whatever they wanted to you?"

"Like you?" Squall sneered back.

"Of course like me!" Seifer lifted a hand. "I can count on one hand Squall, one goddamn hand the number of things in this world that are mine. My sword, my posse and you. I am /not/ giving her back to you without a fight. I don't give a shit what right she thinks she has or knows she has and I'm really starting not to give a shit what you think either!"

He couldn't count, though, how many of those things he'd never meant to say out loud. He did notice he'd managed to shut Squall up for the longest time on record during a fight, that was, if they were still in the middle of this argument.

//You do realize what you just said?//

All that, and to a Squall who still thought this was twenty years ago, who would leave him for Rinoa's side if she wasn't a Sorceress or even if she was. If he was a proper hero the chill in his gut would have been fear for the world but he was Seifer Almasy and it was selfishness. Fear for himself and no one else.

"Fuck. I... fuck." He turned to leave. If he found Fuujin in proper order, she could come down here and fix this. Turn everything he'd meant to do and say into what actually happened and somehow he'd be spared. She'd done it before, with diplomats and kings and she would do it now. Not that he deserved it. Not that he deserved Squall, or had any business fighting to keep what was never his in the first place.

"... wait. Goddamn it, wait."

Squall's hand was around his wrist, and all those plans tumbled down. He had no idea why Squall wasn't angry, or what the hell he was supposed to do, so he just followed orders. Wait.

He loved to watch Squall study - blueprints, diagrams, strategies. It was nearly too much to take, however, when those eyes were focused on him, the unflinching intensity. Squall smiled, just slightly, and Seifer thought for certain he would break.

"I didn't... I didn't choose her, not just her. Not like that."

Seifer snorted. "You didn't have a choice. You - you didn't choose me, either."

//I don't have the right.//

"I can choose now." Seifer's breath caught. Squall's hand came up, thumb near his throat, tracing a soft curve, like a crescent moon.

"I remember you getting that scar, for doing something as stupid as this."

"You should remember the groveling I did then, too." He could barely pull his voice from a whisper. "You do... remember?"

Squall nodded slightly. "Some. Enough. We were happy, weren't we? All that time, we were happy together." Squall was standing closer, sliding his hands around Seifer's waist. Trying to read his intentions was rather impossible over the thudding of his own heart, Seifer licked his lips.

"Ah. Ah, I..."

It was like that first year, all over again, with Squall kissing him and all the thoughts in his head buzzing past all understanding. Worries and hesitations trying to flatten him, and inexplicably it was the most intoxicating feeling in the world. Seifer pushed forward, cupping Squall's face in his hands and not letting him pull away, knowing that this would flicker and die in the next breath. Squall would come to his senses...

"You've always been afraid of this." The blue eyes again, the gaze that looked right through him, although he'd never given this secret up before. Never been a need before, never this risk of losing for good. Squall's fingers were slipping through the belt loops on the back of his pants. So much for coming to any senses.

"Afraid you don't deserve... that I'm going to find you out for something - some truth. After all this time, and you're still afraid I'll leave." The smile was so warm, hard to remember Squall once seemed carved from ice. "Seifer, I'm not that special."

Small, self-depreciating smile and the near-metallic glint of humor in the sharp gaze and Seifer was gone. Needing that pliant body beneath his, the taste of Squall on the edge of his tongue, needing it desperately. Thankfully nothing in the boat was further than a few inches than anything else, or he doubted they would have made it to the bed.

"Oh, sure you are..." He laughed breathlessly, licking a drop of sweat from Squall's neck, hands pushing off whatever fabric they came into contact with. "You know how many guys can keep a waistline after they hit forty?"

Squall laughed, choked it off as Seifer's hands finally met with bare skin. "... remember this, I think." He snickered. "Maybe... with Irvine."

Seifer snickered back. "Slut."


"Guilty as charged."

Squall was unsure, he could feel it. Hesitant, and tentative, with all his concentration focused on the task at hand. Being the task at hand, Seifer found the most difficult part was trying to keep the stupid grin off his face.

Jayne sighed, walking back and forth across the deck, trying to ignore how badly she had to go. She'd only heard one tell-tale sound, just as she'd been about to open the door and go below. Well, there had been the fighting, and then nothing for a long time, and then -

What /was/ it with SeeD? She wasn't this - well, all right, so she had met most of her boyfriends in bar brawls, but still...

It hadn't been /so/ obvious, they were at least trying to be discreet. Hell, she wasn't going to go prove her suspicions either way. It wasn't like they were her parents or anything, not like, totally /gross/, but...

"The bathroom's down there. I can't exactly get to it without... it's the only bathroom."

Fuujin watched her pace patiently.

"It's the only bathroom," she repeated, "they do know that, right?"

"ADAPT." Fuujin glanced meaningfully over the side. Jayne stuck her tongue out.

"Blegh. I can't do that to the fish. I mean..." Jayne winced as her kidneys redoubled their efforts of tap-dancing on her bladder. "Wow, those six Choco colas on the way out, not a good idea."

Fuujin replied by flicking a paper cup at her head. Jayne caught it, quickly noticing the bottom had been cut out.

"You're cold, Aunt Fuu. Real cold." Jayne grimaced at the cup, steeled her shoulders and made her way to the stern, undoing her belt with her other hand.

"Look out, fishies. Jayne means business."

"We have another problem."

Laguna glanced up, watching Kiros walk across the long balcony, cutting such a thin profile that he seemed almost invisible against the busy Esthar skyline.

"Put it next to the rest. They'll be glad to have some new company."

Technically, this wasn't his problem at the ground level. Laguna could have opted not to keep abreast of it, to advise based on whatever information he bothered to pick up, or have delivered to him. Esthar didn't really expect more from him than vague suggestions - it was Kiros who had kept him in the game this long, and thank Hyne for it. His son was right in the middle of all of this, and let it be a hundred thousand problems, Laguna wasn't about to let him down.

"Ellone called, too. Squall isn't with the White SeeD anymore."

Laguna glared up at the mild tone.

"Why didn't you say something sooner?!"

"I just found out. Besides," Kiros shot a meaningful glance over his shoulder. "We both know Seifer didn't make the most popular of decisions. It might be better to keep this as quiet as possible."

"I didn't stay in this job to be their damn figurehead."

"... though you certainly still are pretty enough for it." Kiros muttered absently, the nonchalant attitude precision calculated to give Laguna a nervous tic.

"Will you take this seriously, dammit?! Squall is out there somewhere, with those damned SeeD after him and if I have to do it myself I'm going to make sure he stays safe!"

A cocoa-colored hand closed gently over his tense fist, his friend applying his most sedate smile. The only thing that made it bearable was the sharpness in his eyes. He was not taking this lightly, whatever his outward appearance.

"Breathe, Laguna. I've sent out ships already, they're loyal to us. They'll find the ship, and bring them in safe. Just calm down."

"It's my chance to make it up to him." Laguna's voice was unnaturally desolate, and the katal master winced. It was wrong that he hadn't yet spoken to his son, even if Squall's memory was still not as it should be, this distance was too hard on the older man.

"I failed him when he was born, I did nothing against Ultimecia, nothing that mattered - it's my last chance now and I won't desert him, not this time."


The young aide was all but sprinting to them, decorum completely tossed aside. He arrived panting for air, one hand out against the table to balance himself as he gasped.

"News, Mr. President - Ellone sent a message, but we already think-"

Ellone worked quite well as an emergency code - only one word required - and they were immediately on their feet.

"Ellone, what did she say? Why wasn't I told?"

"No time, sir. We got the alert from her just before we had the first sighting off Fisherman's Horizon."

"First sighting of what?" Kiros said. The aide snapped a photo down on the table between them. Gritty and blurry, it provided nothing, even after a few moments of intense staring.

"Which way is up?" Laguna muttered, reaching out to spin it around. The aide glanced from him to Kiros, blinked, and seemed surprised that his fear wasn't instantly contagious.

"The photo isn't very clear, sir. We've been getting a video feed too, if you'd like to follow me to the conference room."

"What /is/ it?"

"A tower, Mr. President." The second aide had been trailing the first at a more sedate pace, though with no less urgency in her step. A binder was open in her hands, she quickly snapped up the photograph and slid it inside. "All historical evidence places it approximately at the site of a Sorceress' palace, over a thousand years ago."

"Risen from the ocean?" Kiros shared a long look with Laguna.

"Yes, sir. A massive spire, similar to what sparse accounts exist from that time, of the building that stood there. The ocean has submerged what would have been land at that time - but it still is quite a fortress, and rising."

Now that he knew what he was looking at, Laguna could easily pick out the line of the structure from the slightly darker background of sea and sky. It was like a thin, long seashell, bound up in a spiral of darkness, reaching up to scratch against the sky.

"We're in trouble, aren't we?"

Kiros answered him, but the sudden explosion drowned out his words, and a second explosion somewhere behind his eyes sent Laguna down hard to the floor.



Author's Notes: 1. Short chapter. Eep. Sorry if it contradicts other stuff or is total crap or whatever. Dammit.

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