Author’s Notes: Desperate for feedback!


Chapter 8 - A Thousand Miles

By Ashi

That last morning came stark and cold.  Autumn was on the breeze, and the birds swooped excitedly along Garden’s terraced dome, their sleek white bodies tinged with sunlight as their wings cut through a cloudless daybreak.  I took a lung-full of air and released it slowly in a long, uneven breath that clouded in front of me. 

He must have known  I was there, not two feet away, shifting awkwardly in the silence that would never have left me nervous before, yet he remained standing rigid against the balcony, eyes fixed on some far-off point beyond the dawn.  He resembled as much as a live man, or boy, really, could a statue of stoic dignity, forged in marble and liquid mercury, almost real and not quite dead, yet undeniably beautiful. 

It was then that the light caught and glinted in his hair, and it danced and played in such a way that this boy was surely alive, golden in the early morning.  He turned slowly from the balcony, eyes clouded and unseeing, and the sunlight stopped dancing and became a fragmented halo around his head.  It lurked there now, afraid to dance, and somehow, I knew that it could never have stayed; we could never have stayed.  It was just as well; summer was over and the birds circled a last time before drifting lazily on the breeze, their feathers turning in the sun.

Then, I had already known what would become of us; that winter proved to be the coldest to date.  But for all those days spent knowing he was with her, and all those nights when he seemed to look right through me, I was never prepared.  He’d never said a word—he didn’t have to.  My empty bed and his empty eyes spoke for themselves.

I was even less prepared when he turned up one night with two glasses and a bottle of a rich, amber drink from some faraway place, and a gift, for me.  Wordlessly, he slipped the heavy chain over my neck, carefully positioning the pendent so it hung snug against my chest, and his hand slid up the metal links to touch my jaw briefly.  

When he stepped away to pour the wine, I asked him why.  He sighed and handed me a brimming glass.  “Just because.”

Just because.

And when he undressed me and led me to the bed, laying me down and taking me in one swift, well-practiced thrust, I let him.  Just because.

Because he was everything--Seifer.  Because I could have almost believed it was more.

Now, as I stare vacantly at the ceiling, my thoughts drown out the presence of my tormentor so adequately that I hardly notice when he’s through.  He’s braced over me, panting harshly, and I don’t so much as flinch when his hand slithers down my stomach to fondle my limp, unresponsive sex.  “Now, this simply won’t do,” he says gruffly, reaching up to grasp my chin, tilting my head from one side to the other and observing critically.  “No, won’t do at all.” 

He brushes his knuckles over my cheek in a manner that’s grotesquely reminiscent to a gentle lover’s touch, watching my face closely.  “Hmm…Yes, I think it’s best if we wait until the effects have worn off, don’t you agree?,” he asks smoothly, as if consulting a patient.  “You’ll like it now, I promise.”

Still inside me, he dips his head to kiss the place where Griever would rest, nestled in the hollow beneath my breast-bone, and I watch the ceiling, a thousand miles away.

“You have something to tell us.”  It’s no more a question than a chocobo is a reliable means of transportation.  He certainly wastes no time. 

I give the long-haired spaghetti-western reject a glare that would have been withering if not for the fact that his own countered it rather impressively; he’d give Squall a run for his money. 

Irvine’s impatience with me may be due to my apparent lack of concern towards Squall’s disappearance, or perhaps the way I tried, unsuccessfully, to lighten the mood with a few desperate jokes, which, looking back, may have been a bit ill-timed...But I can’t stand it.

Within five minutes of our departure, the cockpit had regressed into a tomblike silence, all varying degrees of anxious energy stifled like a flame deprived of oxygen.   Because everyone knows nothing’s been proven.  And everyone knows we’re just acting off a wild hunch offered by myself of all people…Fuck, by the way some of them are looking at me, you’d think I had kinky-pants stashed in a broom closet, and was feeding him bread crusts while I came up with the ransom.   I only wish that were the case, as it’s a certainty that I’d find a way to mess it up.

But Walker…Just the though of that lunatic with him is enough to make my stomach turn.

“What does he want with Squall?”  Damn.  Leave it to chicken-wuss to ask the very question I’ve been dreading. 

They’re all watching me now, with the exception of Quistis, who steers silently, her face turned away.  I try to decide where to start, how much to say, shifting uncomfortably under the weight of their stares.  I open my mouth, then close it, then run a hand through my hair in agitation.

“Well?,” Irvine asks impatiently.

“I’m trying, godamnit!”  I pause in the shocked silence that ensues, dropping my eyes to the floor.  “I’m not sure what I should…”

“Everything,” Quistis says carefully, her eyes never leaving the vast landscape of blue flashing past us.  We’re over the ocean now, sky and water converging at a distant point on the horizon.  “Tell them everything.” 

Seeing no other option myself, I take a deep breath, and begin.

Damn, but he pisses me off.  Can’t say that I ever really liked Seifer to begin with, and now that I’ve officially met him, my opinion hasn’t improved. He acts as if Squall got lost on the way to the bathroom, obviously not allowing a little thing like the possibility of a brutal abduction cramp his style; he leans casually against the wall with an infuriating combination of nonchalance and arrogance that makes my blood boil. 

Some might say it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black, but as far as I can tell, the similarities end there.  Hell, I know I’m a cocky bastard—it’s kept me alive this far.  And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to stick with the tried and true.

His eyes are still fixed on some random point on the floor, and he’s silent for what seems like an unnecessarily long amount of time.  I’m about to prompt him again when his voice starts low and soft, stinging words together as if he had paused in the middle of telling a story, and had simply picked up where he left off. 

“I was never adopted.  I don’t think Matron saw much hope for me, either.  So, I was sent to Garden early, right after I turned five.  Some guys came to pick me up in a cruiser, made a big show of taking off, but the truth is I never even left the continent.

“In those days, Balamb G was chiefly funded by a small corporation in Esthar—the biological weapons department.”  Seifer pauses, the edge of a wry smile tilting his lips.  “Quite the coincidence.  Apparently, they had some sort of agreement worked out.  Certain children headed for Garden would make a detour for about five years, and no one would be the wiser.   A lot of these kids were plucked straight from orphanages, like me…and Squall.”

“Did Matron know about this?,” Selphie interrupts, and Seifer lifts his eyes slowly, as if he forgot we’re here.

“No,” he replies firmly.  “She thought I was headed for Balamb, just like you got sent to Trabia, and Irvine to Galbadia.”  He shifts his eyes to me.  “I guess kids going to Balamb seemed like an easy target; Trabia was too close-knit not to notice something was going on, and Esthar was hardly on speaking terms with Galbadia.

“As you know, Garden funding was the responsibility of the Master, which at that time was--”

“—Norg,”  Zell finishes spitefully.  “That bastard always cut the cafeteria funds.”
Of course.  The spiky blonde’s judgement of character is an extension of his stomach. 

“Right,” Seifer continues, obviously suppressing a jibe.  “He was never very popular, which brings us back to Mr. Walker.

“He didn’t want his practice at testing human subjects to be out in the open, for obvious reasons, and apparently neither did Esthar’s government; he got a grant to move his operations to Centra right away.”

“Wait a sec,” I cut in.  “Esthar’s the most advanced region in the world.  Why would they be screwing around so much with biological weapons when they’re already way ahead of all that?”

Seifer clears his throat savagely, apparently annoyed at being interrupted again.  “Magic can be unreliable—it has to be drawn from a source.  And at that time, Odine was just a small fry in the technology department.  

“Psychochemical drugs, however, can be manufactured and are easy to deploy—they can be inhaled, absorbed, excreta; they don’t even have to come in direct contact with the body.  The scientists had to be extremely careful,” he sneers.  “Of course, there were a few casualties, which were relatively easy to cover up, as Walker’s team was forced to sever all ties with anyone they knew.  They were already dead as far as the rest of the world was concerned.

“I was released when I was ten, and dropped off at Garden as if nothing had happened.  That was part of the arrangement—a five-year stay, then straight to Balamb.  Garden got funds, Walker got subjects.

“Three years after I left, Esthar became pressured into shutting down his little practice, and no one’s aware it even existed.  Those who do know have found ways of forgetting, or wouldn’t be believed anyway.”

The world flashes by outside the enclosed confines of Ragnarok’s cockpit, and I squint to see the tip of a rocky peninsula emerging from the endless blue.

“What about Squall?,” Zell demands impatiently.

“I never seen him,” Seifer continues.  “Everyone was always separated from each other…I could have been the only subject there, for all I knew. 

“Squall was released a year after me.  When he came to Garden, he was even skinnier than I remembered, shaky, timid…Whatever drugs Walker used had caused permanent damage to his nervous system.”

“But, that can’t be possible,” Selphie remarks critically.  “Psychochemical agents lose their effects within hours--I learned all about this sort of thing in Trabia.  It was the only class I paid attention.”

“Was long-term usage a variable?”

“I don’t--”

“And what if the short-term effects have worn off, but five years of repeated exposure has caused long-term effects?”

“Well…,” Selphie trails off, clutching the hemline of her skirt and biting her lip in thought, a collective pause settling over all of us.

“What about you?,” Zell asks quietly.

“I…don’t really know.  Maybe it was because Squall was smaller, or maybe he was subjected to more than I was…Anyway, that’s only half the problem.

“I guess Walker had a thing for Squall, back then…Used to drug him…”  Seifer shakes his head in disgust.  “All I know is what Squall told me.  I’m not sure if it’s even him.”

“And why would Squall tell you anything?” 

Seifer looks away from the tattooed martial-artist, smiling faintly.  “Funny, I always thought it was you who started the rumors.”

Zell blinks.  “What the hell are you talking about?”

With a long-suffered sigh, Seifer crosses his arms over his chest and clucks his tongue in mock-disappointment.  “You don’t know?  You really are that dense, aren’t you Chicken-wu--”  

“Seifer,” Quistis’ voice rings out reprovingly, just as Zell tenses for attack. 

“Fine, fine,” he mutters, rolling his eyes dramatically.  “I guess I’ll have to tell you, if you can’t figure it out for yourselves.”  Somehow I know I’m not going to like what he has to say.  “Squall and I used to be a lot closer than most people knew.”  No, not liking this at all…  “In fact, we were fairly good friends, among other things.” 

“You mean…,” Selphie whispers, eyes wide with disbelief.  “You…and Squall?” Zell makes a small choked sound.

“We…understood each other,” Seifer says slowly.  “I could tell him things without worrying about what he would think.  And he told me things.  That’s how I found out he’d been there, too.”  He looks out the window, at foaming waves pounding viciously against a desolate, craggy shoreline.  “But that’s in the past,” he murmurs, eyebrows drawn together.  “And it doesn’t matter now.  Now, that matters is we find him as soon as possible.”  With that, he turns and leaves the cockpit, his trench flaring behind him. 

I find myself following him.

He’s propped up against a shadowed wall outside the door, staring at the plastic scrap in his hand.    He doesn’t look up when I approach him.

“Did you care about him?,” I ask before I can stop myself.

He doesn’t seem remotely surprised at my question, and meets my eye squarely.  “More than you know,” he answers without hesitation.

I’ve never known a sentence to be more relieving or more disquieting at the same time. 

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