Author’s Notes: Desperate for feedback!


Chapter 10 - Butterfly in a Jar

By Ashi

Should have known this was coming.  Happens every time.

Seifer stands waiting, tapping the flashlight against his jaw pensively, his face a distortion of shadow and light.

“We’ve only got one flashlight...,” he states carefully, waggling said object in a mock-enticing manner.   “Any takers?”

Not that I’m complaining.  I know, from a logical standpoint, splitting up is the most efficient way to tackle a place like this, a maze of corridors dividing and converging until you end up at the beginning without a clue how it happened.  I know.  I grew up in Galbadia Garden.

I guess it’s just the over-protective side of me--I hate it.  And we do it every damn time.

Quistis shakes her head gently, stretching out a gloved hand.  “I suppose you think you don’t need it?”

“I’ll find my way.” 

“Predictable,” Quistis says dryly, taking the flashlight with reluctance. “You know, some of us still have trouble navigating in pitch-black.”

Seifer sighs impatiently.  “Trust me.  All passages are linked,” he says, gesturing at our surroundings for emphasis, and it’s true we’re huddled in an intersection of sorts, complete with gaping black corridors spanning off in four directions.  “And they all lead right back here.  You’d have to be an idiot to get lost in this place…”  He looks pointedly at Zell, who is craning his neck in the attempt to see further down an especially narrow-looking passage, conveniently oblivious.  Must be nice.  It seems my bouts of unawareness strike at all the wrong times.

“Fine, let’s not waste anymore time,” Quistis says hurriedly.  “But you’re taking….”  She scans our small circle, and I try not to balk as her gaze settles squarely on me.  “Irvine.  If he agrees, of course,” she adds in a tone that lacks doubt I’d dream of doing anything else.

“Of course,” I reply dully.  Seifer looks less than thrilled, but manages a sarcastic smile just the same.

“Fine by me,” he says lazily.  “Just don’t slow me down.”

“I don’t think you’ll have to worry, Seifer,” Quistis breaks in loudly.  “So, Zell, Selphie, and I will head off this way”—she gestures to the passage Zell had been eyeing—“and you and Irvine can take the right?”

“Sounds like a plan,” he concedes to Quistis’s obvious relief, but I don’t miss the cynical undertone that’s directed at me, more than likely.

“What about the middle?” Selphie asks, and I realize I haven’t heard her voice for a long time.  She looks small and ashen in the flashlight’s pale glow, her arms wrapped around her sparse frame.  I realize with a pang that I’d left my duster behind in the rush, but then, it hadn’t exactly been in its cleanest state…Selphie probably wouldn’t be able to express her gratitude at having a thing that looks and smells like a dead animal shoved in her face.  You’d think I’d learn to lengthen my firing range after years of scrubbing monster remains from my clothes--and let me tell you, that stuff isn’t exactly water-soluble—but apparently, I’m more stubborn than that Grat was fast.  Go figure.

 “We can wind around and hit it.  We might anyway, by accident,” Seifer says, draping his trench over Selphie’s shoulders; it hangs like an oversized bathrobe with a ridiculously bulky collar, the sleeves nearly drooping down to join that which is already pooled on the ground at her feet.  Selphie’s face peers out from the vast grey, offering Seifer a pale, grateful smile he doesn’t seem to notice.

He continues, ignoring the shock that must be registering on at least two faces (Zell’s and my own, to be sure) at the unlikely act of kindness, his expression grim.  “It’s the main corridor—it connects to everything else…I doubt Walker would choose a room in such an accessible section.”

 He pauses, mulling over his next words while we wait rather impatiently.  In his slow exhalation and shuttered eyes, I watch the sudden end of an internal struggle as he opens his mouth with reluctance.  “I just…I should warn you before you go bursting into rooms with the impression this guy’s harmless—he’s not.  Squall was only a little boy, back then…Who knows how long Walker’s been tracking him?,” he intones lowly, disgust permeating his voice.  “He’s sadistic, unbalanced, obsessed… And Squall…”

Zell moves nearer to the light, his tattoo coiling black against skin that’s rarely looked so pale.   “When we find him…”

 “…Just be prepared.” 

An uneasy quiet settles over our huddled circle, making the damp air seem all the colder, and the shadows that much blacker.  Everyone searches for something to say until they think better of it--because in the end, there’s really nothing words can communicate that silence can’t.   And for a moment, no one dares interrupt.  Here, shivering and ringed in dark, it’s too damn easy to forget just how unlike a standard mission this little expedition’s turning out to be; personally, I’d rather have another go at Ultimecia.

One thing’s for sure, he wouldn’t have let us waste time like this, allowing us to think unchecked when there’s so much to consider and dread and fear…The human mind has the ability to cripple itself, and out of all of us, it’s perhaps Squall who understands this best.  He would have known better.  And I can’t help thinking, if only I’d told him, maybe everything would have been different.

If only’…What a useless phrase.

I think I’ve grown to hate past tense, too.

“Alright, let’s be off then,” Quistis says crisply, and a collective round of startled blinking ensues; I’ve never thought I’d be so relieved to hear the ever-timely voice of reason.  Quistis waits for her chosen team to gather around her, then turns to Seifer and me, giving us a hard look. “Be careful, both of you,” she orders, and her lips quirk into a knowing smile as she brandishes the flashlight at us.  “And try and get along?”

Then she’s gone, striding off into the darkness with Zell and Selphie at her side (the combination of Selphie’s flipped hair and Seifer’s bulky trench making for a very strange silhouette, indeed), the flashlight’s glow growing fainter with each step.   They round a corner and the world is suddenly plunged into a black that’s almost tangible, pushing in from all sides as if aiming to swallow me along with the light.

 “Hope you’re not still afraid of the dark.”  Seifer’s voice carries from a different place than he had been standing not moments before, and I mentally kick myself for not hearing him move.

“Yeah, well, it’s nice to see nothing’s changed with you,” I say evenly as I follow the sound of his footsteps moving away in the blackness.  “You’re still as much of an insufferable asshole as you ever were.”

“You forgot the devastatingly handsome part.”

“Must have slipped my mind,” I mutter, glaring at the direction of his disembodied voice, but the effect is lost in the dark.  It’s a shame--that was one of the best glares I’ve ever done.

His hands are on me again.  He’d gone once, briefly, and I’d heard a faucet running and pipes churning overhead—I remember this now.  This was my room.

His fingers drift over my ribs, pausing over scars and healed breaks, and his eyes are hungry.  “I hate to leave you,” he sighs, and I look up at him questioningly, despite myself.  “We’ll take care of this together, you and me.”

“What d’you mean?” I ask, vaguely finding it strange how my tongue stumbles over the words when I can hear and see and feel more vividly than I would like, given the situation.

“Hmm?” he responds, his eyes sweeping up to meet mine in surprise; he watches me for a moment, a small smile twisting his features unnaturally.  “Your voice is as perfect as the rest of you, you sound so nice…”  He sighs indulgently, his eyes shadowed with that look I’ve grown to fear, but it’s too late, and I’m too tired to do anything but whimper in protest as he begins touching me in a way that brings bile to the back of my throat, that makes my mind recoil to find a place he can’t hurt, a place that doesn’t exist.  His dry, callused fingers work their way inside me with a rough impatience I could never be used to, no matter how many times he forces me this way.  He tears, he hurts, he takes away—and this time when he enters me, there’s only pain.

Pain—pain so total I can’t escape it, pain so consuming I know nothing but the ripping of my own flesh as he buries himself within me, and the awful things he says, punctuated by each thrust.  It hurts. It hurts so much.

“Even better than I remember,” he pants, groaning at my agonized sob and driving himself still deeper, still faster as my passage becomes slicked with blood.  His hands clench my hips hard enough to leave bruises, I feel a rush of wet heat and I know it’s over.  It was quick, at least, and he pulls out of me carefully—not that it makes much difference.  Not that I can feel anything at all.

He looks surprised to see the blood, perplexed, almost, and he checks my face for tears.  There are none.

He vanishes again, and it’s not long before I hear the sink and the pipes, the sound of running water reminding me of how long it’s been since I’ve had anything to drink.  I try to swallow ineffectively, and settle for closing my eyes and ignoring the sting as the air dries my torn, bleeding skin.  I remember what it had been like, lying here in the aftermath, bloody and broken and wishing I didn’t have to feel.

He comes back with a towel, fully dressed and looking shaken.  The towel—if the thing is indeed a towel—is thin and tattered, a color that was perhaps once white, and is ultimately deemed of very little use: within seconds he tosses the wasted scrap aside, and it’s stained as deeply red as the blood that pools beneath my thighs. 

He lifts trembling hands to his face, staring wide-eyed at the smeared crimson painting his palms, then slowly turns his shocked gaze on me.  “Look what you made me do,” he says quietly, accusingly.  “It was always like that, you know—you always made me want you, want to hurt you.”  His voice shakes with rage as he scrubs his hands on his trousers in a futile effort to rid them of my blood.  “Slut…It’s not my fault--I didn’t want to, you made me.”  He’s at my side before my mind registers his movement, his face a mask of cold fury as he grasps my neck hard enough to leave marks--hard enough to make me gasp in pain--the sound siphoning through my strangled airway as a tortured cry, and he pulls away just as quickly.

My eyes are squeezed shut, the screaming of my nerves seeming to have tripled as harsh, wracking coughs jar my body mercilessly; I end in a pathetic whimper, despite my best efforts to avoid giving him the satisfaction.  A little late for that…., I remind myself coldly, flinching as he lays his hand on my forehead.  I don’t open my eyes.

“Does it hurt?,” he asks softly, and I remotely realize how unwise it would be to inform him of the stupidity of the question, and settle instead for mute indifference.  He sighs shakily, brushing the hair from my face in what would be a soothing manner, had it been anyone else.  “Please talk to me,” he pleads in a broken whisper.  “I’m sorry…Don’t be afraid.”

There’s a pause in which I can feel him watching me, but I’m not sure I could  speak if I wanted to—at least, no more than I can will myself away from this place and his pale, starving eyes.  I could never escape, even in my dreams.  He withdraws suddenly, and I wait for him to yell, or hit, or touch, but he does none of these things.  “It’s okay,” he says simply.  “I’ll get you something that will help you feel better.”

Nearby, I hear a drawer being wrenched open and the sounds of him rummaging through the contents, muttering to himself in a low, indiscernible growl .  Before long, he’s hovering over me again, and there’s a stinging in my neck, sharp and swift as it had been when he’d done the same in the unassuming quiet of my office.  It must be the same drug, as well—I can feel it taking effect already, my thoughts sliding and running together again; my body growing warm and unreceptive, slipping into numb detachment.  My breathing slows to that of a sleeper, and doesn’t change when he runs his thumb over my cheek with a fond sigh.  “There, that’s better, isn’t it?  Now all we have to do is wait for them.”

“…Someone’s coming?” I hazard, my voice slurred and distant.  He doesn’t respond immediately, stooping to kiss the side of my mouth, suckling the tender flesh with languid swipes of his tongue.

“Mm, yes,” he mumbles against my skin.  “Yes, but I don’t think we’ll have to worry.”  I open my eyes at this, which is a task in itself, and focus on the what he’s lifted his shirt for me to see: a gun tucked snugly in the front of his pants, glinting under the oily light.  “Picked them up on my sensors,” he says, gesturing toward the adjacent room—the one sounds of washing had come from.  “Your friends.” He spits the word out with a sarcastic curl of his lip, and it’s more than I’d feared.

“N-no, please--don’t hurt--” He places a finger to my lips, clucking disapprovingly.

“Now, that’s all up to you, pretty,” he says with lilting unconcern.  “I won’t hurt them as long as you promise to be good and do what I say.”   His finger drags across my lower lip, and his eyes follow it, allowing his words to sink in.  “So…will you?” he asks without looking at me or giving me time to answer, lowering his mouth onto mine in a swift, brutal kiss that leaves me gasping.

“You—you won’t…?”  I manage as he turns his attentions to my neck, fingers tilting my head to the side while his teeth graze over every inch of exposed skin.

“Not if you’re good.”

Whatever he wants from me couldn’t possibly be as bad as the alternative, I decide, couldn’t be any worse than anything he’s already done.  I close my eyes, forcing myself to relax as his hands rove steadily lower.  “What do you want me to do?”

He stops suddenly, although his fingers don’t stray from my abdomen.  “What do I want you to do?” He pretends to consider thoughtfully, then breaks into harsh, joyless laughter that splinters on the walls.  I flinch, and he traces a meandering line from my navel to the rise of my ribs, exhaling softly. “Oh, I want you to do so many things, pretty…Why do you think I brought you here?”  His fingers drift upward to ghost over my lips. “I want you to feel me…” They circle my closed eyelids, tracing the rim of my lashes, and he dips his head to nuzzle the side of my head.  “…See me…and…hear me…”

Then he shifts, leaning over me until I’m forced to open my eyes.  “But most importantly…,” he murmurs, scanning my face, fingers curled around my neck and over rising bruises.  “I want you to belong to me.”  His eyes bore into mine.  “And I want you to know it.  I want you to live it.  I’ve never wanted anything so badly—or anyone, not as much as I want you to realize this…”  I stare back at him, and he smiles in satisfaction.  “I’ve already claimed you.  You’re already mine—been mine, since that first day.  Such a small thing, so pretty…you cried, fought me, but you learned, didn’t you?  You know what people want.  You know what I can give you that they can’t.”  I look away and his hand slides up my neck before I know it, stationing my jaw even as his face is shoved in front of mine, giving me nowhere to look but him.  “You like it,” he growls, eyes flashing dangerously.  “You like the things I do to you.”  His nose bumps mine, and his voice is a hoarse whisper.  “You know you do…Do they know, pretty?  Think what they would say…They’d think you were disgusting, you know, they wouldn’t understand what you need…How I make you like it…How their brave “commander” wants to be fucked like a girl…”

My eyes sting with repressed tears and he smiles a little; it wouldn’t be the first time he’s seemed to know exactly what’s going on inside my head.

“I’ve had you; I’ve owned you,” he says, eyes fixed on mine while his hands run over his marks on my skin.  “No one wants a used toy, no matter how pretty it is…”  He licks away a tear on my cheek.  “But don’t worry.  I’m planning on keeping you.”

It really is amazing how fast time flies when you’re having fun…and how much it can seem to move with all the speed and precision of a monologue from Laguna’s movie career when you’re not--in this instance, stumbling about in the dark without any sense of direction, save the one that’s telling you to get the hell out of here as fast as your legs can carry you.  This notion is mostly do to the predicament you’re in, which involves following the guy you least associate with someone you should be following, under nearly any circumstances.   However, I think as I pick myself up from the ground for what seems like the hundredth time, desperate times call for some desperate fuckin’ measures.

“Sorry—forgot to tell you about that one.”

 For example, becoming the unwilling recipient of Seifer’s consistently painful brand of humor—the same kind that was responsible for a great deal of trauma in my early childhood years. “You wouldn’t believe how much shit is just lying in the middle of the halls—would’ve thought you’d be able to miss at some of it, though,” he says offhandedly.  “Guess the bar’s not too high over in Galbadia, eh Cowboy?”

I grit my teeth, picturing beating that haughty grin I just know he’s wearing into a tidy little hole in his face.  This goes far beyond desperation.

Combing the corridors has turned up nothing, and I hope the others are having better luck than we are.  At least better than me, I think, peeling myself from a wall that hadn’t looked quite so solid in the dark.  Seifer doesn’t put much effort into hiding his amusement.  “As you must have noticed, this is as far as we can go in this direction,” he informs me, giving the wall a hearty thump.  “I’ve got the right.  You take the left—just follow it up a few turns until you come to another dead-end, and come back here when you’re through. Think you can handle it?” I think my chances of growing a second head are better, but I’m sure as hell not going tell him that.

“No problem.” Once I find out which way’s left…

I end up waiting for him to set off so I can tell in which general direction to start walking.  Hey, I never claimed to be good at this--give me a gun and some goddamn light and I’ll be just fine.

After rounding a few corners (in a fashion that includes a lot of running into things and retracing my steps), I’m beginning to wonder just how the hell I’m supposed to find my way back when I see it—a faint thread of coppery light spilling from beneath a doorway.  It doesn’t seem real, but my legs are carrying me down the corridor at a jog—and for once, I don’t trip.

It’s one of those situations when you can’t believe it’s happening until it’s right in front of you; at the moment I reach the door, I want nothing more than to yank it open and burst inside without a second thought.  However, a year’s worth of tedious infiltration training forces me to stand to the side, out of the range of light, and press my ear to the wall briefly.  Nothing.

Contrary to popular belief, I’m not so careless when it comes to matters of military procedure.  Exeter’s weight is as comforting as the greeting of an old friend, and if I hadn’t done it a million times already, I would have marveled at its summoning time.  But my hand’s already on the doorknob and all I can do is grit my teeth and tighten my grip on Exeter, my heartbeat pounding in my chest—the knob turns without a hitch.

The door swings open and my retinas adjust to the sudden flood of light; in that split-second, in that hazy, washed-out instant just before focusing, I see everything: the room--crumbling walls, splashes of red gleaming under a sickly light--but it’s him my eyes find first.  His skin’s a canvas of smeared blood and bruises, his lashes startlingly black against pale, tear-stained cheeks; his lips form my name and it’s the last thing I see before sliding into an unknowing black.

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