DISCLAIMER: All the characters, places etc., are the property of Square, not me (::sniffs::). I'm just borrowing them for my own nefarious purposes. I promise they'll be tidied up, and sent home all clean an' sparkling.
(For summary, rating, etc., see previous chapters)
The room was candlelit, he could almost feel every tiny flame of light, even though that should have been impossible. He couldn't see a door hell, he couldn't even see walls, just folds of translucent white fabric, billowing slightly in an invisible breeze.
The lips against his were softer than he remembered. Insistent, but infinitely gentle, like someone was sweeping finely spun spider webs against his skin. His fingers slid through an unruly mop of silken hair, spilling like melted chocolate against the pure white pillows. He leant down, stealing another sweet kiss, his breath turning into a whimper as the body beneath his arched up against him. Strong thighs parted, legs entwining with his longer ones, pulling him closer.
He heard a soft, frustrated sigh as he reluctantly broke the kiss. He wasn't sure which of them it came from.
A stormy, petulant gaze met his words.
"This " Seifer swallowed hard, his fingertips brushing along Squall's jaw, lightly dragging his thumb across the pouting lower lip. "This isn't real, is it?"
"Real?" Squall echoed, a faint frown crossing his face. "Probably not. I I'm not sure I could tell the difference anymore. Does it matter?"
Seifer sighed, leaning back against the bed, pulling Squall into his arms, his head on Seifer's chest.
"No I guess it doesn't." he pressed a kiss to the top of his lover's head. "It's just that I don't understand."
"Understand what?" the mumble came on a warm breath across his skin, making him shiver.
"What you're doing here "
"I I don't know. It's as though she lets go sometimes, lets me talk to you." Squall shook his head. "But it's almost like she wants me to "
"Well, she is looking for me. Can't you tell her that I don't have her goddamned vessel? Or anything else."
"She thinks you do. And she wouldn't listen to me anyway "
"No I guess she wouldn't "
Squall sat up, struggling free from Seifer's grasp. He sat on the edge of the huge, white bed, in the huge white room, breathing heavily, shoulders shaking.
"She's in my head " he gasped. "She's always in my head I can't get her out " he turned back to Seifer, tears glittering in his eyes. "Please get her out I don't care what it takes, I just I can't take it anymore "
"It's okay, baby " Seifer sighed loudly, wrapping his arms around Squall's shoulders, pressing his chest to that trembling back. "I know how it feels, but she doesn't have total control of your mind. You're the one who's got to figure out how to fight her She's beckoning to something that's already inside you and you're the only one who can figure out what that is "
"No " Squall shook his head, his voice still thick with panic. "You don't understand Gods, Seifer you have to be careful, promise me you'll be careful "
"I promise " he soothed, placing soft kisses on the back of Squall's neck. "It'll be okay, I swear. I'll get you back baby "
He tightened his arms around Squall, only to feel his hands grasping at thin air. Off-balance, he tipped forwards.
He opened his eyes as he hit the ground, only slightly shocked that he wasn't on the floor of the white room anymore.
Instead, he was kneeling in a flower field. In the flower field. Only it wasn't where it used to be.
He stood up, noticing with some amusement that he was suddenly fully dressed, and looked around. The flower field now ran directly to the beach, and the distant lighthouse. But the path, the crags, even the orphanage was gone. In it's place lay the front entrance to Balamb Garden, the hum of the anti-gravitational rings buzzing in harmony with the lapping of the waves. On the other side of the field, dark clouds hovered over the all too familiar rocky clearing.
It felt like standing in an over exposed photograph.
A soft, girlish giggle made him spin around, convinced he'd been alone just seconds before.
He'd half expected to see Rinoa.
The woman in front of him was most definitely not the Sorceress. Tall, almost as tall as he was, willowy figure draped in the same white fabric as had formed the enclosure of the white room. Dark curls reaching halfway down her back.
And grey, storm cloud eyes.
He reached instinctively for Hyperion, gloved hand closing around nothing where the handle should have been.
"You have no need of your weapon here. I do not wish to fight you."
"What the hell is this ?"
"He's right, you know." she nodded, idly picking one of the bright white flowers that brushed at her skirt. Like the room before, everything around him shifted as though caught in a breeze, even though he couldn't feel any wind. "You must be careful. She wields great power. And she's looking for you " she held out the flower to him, a small childlike smile gracing her face when he eventually took it. "She's looking for me, too "
He didn't have to ask, but he needed to hear her say it anyway.
She smiled, nodded.
"Are you the one who's controlling Rinoa?"
"No. I am not."
"Then who the fuck is? And who the hell are you?"
"They are waiting." She ignored his questions. "If you call them, they will answer. They must answer, if she is to find what she seeks. And if you are to find what you have lost "
"He is strong. But she is stronger. And you are stronger still."
"Why does she think I've got the damned vessel she's looking for?"
"Because you do." Adrasteia smiled. "And then again, you don't. Not completely. She may believe she already has fragments of it, but she is mistaken. In any case, fragments are useless to you both." She stared at him, her smile disappearing. "But she must never assemble the vessel."
Yeah, right. As if I ever had any intention of letting her achieve whatever it is she's trying to do.
"So I've got pieces of this thing?" he frowned. "Where?"
"Balamb Garden." She gestured to the hazy rendition of his home, behind her. "Which is why she will aim an attack there, soon."
Great. Rinoa was going to tear Garden apart, looking for bits of some goddamned vessel. Damn it, did Squall know about this? Had he agreed to keep the fragments hidden at Garden, only to conveniently forget to tell anyone else before swanning off with Rinoa?
"Then why bother with Timber?"
"Perhaps she made a mistake." Adrasteia sighed, turning away. "Perhaps not."
"Wait! What about him?"
She glanced back, a curious little smile playing on her lips.
"You must never let him assemble the vessel, either."
"But " he started to follow her, only to find himself falling, again.
This time, he came to on the white tiled floor of the Infirmary, his head pressed up at an unnatural angle against a first aid trolley.
"Shit " he muttered, raising a hand to the stinging pain at the side of his head, wincing as it came away streaked with crimson.
Wait a second since when was he in the Infirmary? Last thing he remembered was sitting in the 'Rok, after leaving Deling City
"Seifer!" he tried turning his head at the exclamation, emanating from someplace near the door, but the room began to tilt and spin. "Hyne, I can't leave you alone for a second, can I?"
"Apparently not " he leant back against the side of the Infirmary bed, keeping his eyes closed until the dizziness abated. "Oh, and Quisty? What the fuck is going on?"
"You passed out on board the Ragnarok." As she spoke, he could visualise the motherly little gestures she was probably making. Condescending smile, knowing shake of the head. "Dr. Kadowaki checked you over, and taking into account the way you've been lately, she said it was severe physical exhaustion. The stress of the past few days probably didn't help either."
"Few days?" he opened his eyes, glared half-heartedly up at her. "Since when has it been a few days?"
"Your health, as well as your judgement was in question." The brief uncertainty in her eyes was quickly replaced by a vehement defiance. "As Vice-Commander, I gave the authorisation to have you sedated."
"Excuse me? I might be stressed, but I'm not crazy! Since when do I need fucking sedating?"
"Come on, Seifer " she knelt beside him on the floor, her tone gentle. "The way you were heading you could have become a danger to others, and yourself. I know you don't want that and I've lost too many friends. I refuse to add your name to the list."
"Yeah, well " the room was almost still, so he hauled himself back up to the bed. "Considering all that's happened, I would have thought you'd know better than to purposefully disregard the only person around here who has a fucking clue what's going on!"
"Fine." She folded her arms over her chest, taking a step back towards the door. "Next time I'll just sit back and watch you slowly killing yourself. Doesn't bother me."
"It's my decision Quistis. And you know we can't afford to have any of us out of action right now. What would have happened if the Sorceress had directed an attack against Garden while I was taking my enforced little nap, huh?"
"She could have." He shook his head, immediately regretting it. "I know I sound like an ungrateful bastard, but now's just a very bad time, you know?"
"Yeah, whatever " she shrugged, a feeble attempt to cover her hurt with ill-fitting nonchalance. "I'll consult you next time."
"There won't be a next time." He stood, ignoring the weak sensations in his legs, and retrieved his boots from beneath the bed. "I won't let it go that far again. Okay?"
"Okay." She nodded, watching him as he stalked around the narrow room, looking for his coat. "I'll let it slide "
"If you tell me who Adrasteia is."
His fingers dug into the fabric of his coat, as he half spun around to stare at her, dimly realising that the sudden feeling of nausea probably had little to do with his exhaustion, or the drugs.
"You've been mumbling the name in your sleep for over twenty four hours." She met his wary stare with a remarkably calm blue gaze, her voice steady. "And when Selphie and Irvine returned from Esthar this morning, she was disappointed that she hadn't been able to turn up any information about some Vessel you had her investigating " she broke the gaze abruptly, turning away. "I know you keep things to yourself Seifer, but to know that you trust Selphie ahead of me, then " she laughed, softly. "Gods, at least the two of you still have something in common neither of you wanted to talk to me "
"Go on, tell me to go talk to a wall, that'll send me on a real nostalgia trip "
The tears in her eyes felt like a sharp kick to the gut, and he wondered for a moment whether he was still caught up in a nightmare.
They all had their little acts, their perfect performances, honed over the years to the point where few could even see the seams. Hers was more convincing than most, sometimes he caught himself believing it was real. Quistis was so strong, so composed, it was so easy sometimes to forget how insecure and fragile she could be. Especially when he was behaving like a royal asshole.
"Hey, listen to me " he stepped towards her, resting his hands on her shoulders and turning her back to face him. "I didn't tell you because I honestly didn't know if it was important, or if it was just my imagination. I didn't want to worry you without reason "
"And you don't think I'm worried out of my mind anyway?"
No. Aside from her cool exterior, he'd been too busy wallowing in his own panic, he'd barely spared a thought for hers.
Hyne, that had better be a rhetorical question
Instead of answering, he drew her into a reassuring embrace, and told her - almost word for word - the story he'd told Selphie.
Told her everything he knew about Adrasteia. About the Vessel. About the irrational fear. Even a ruthlessly edited account of the last dream.
Everything. Apart from the fact he didn't even want to think about himself.
That he'd been dreaming about her long before Squall and Rinoa attacked Timber. He hadn't known who she was then, but looking back he knew it was her.
"If it's any consolation, Squall never mentioned keeping any fragments here at Garden. And, as far as I can recall, no-one's ever mentioned Adrasteia before. Is she a Sorceress?"
"I don't think so." He shook his head. "And I believe her when she says she isn't the one controlling Rinoa."
"I guess that makes sense. After all, she should know where her own Vessel is, right?" Quistis smiled weakly. "But it means we're still at a loss as to why Rinoa wants it "
"I know " he sighed, pulling back slightly until he could see her eyes. "Are you still okay with what we discussed?"
"Because I would understand if you changed your mind. It's different when it's just theoretical, but now it's real. And if you want to back out, then I'll find some other way "
"There is no other way." She looked up at him. "Is there?"
"I I doubt it." He admitted. "And it's probably the only way we can resolve this without causing serious harm to either of them "
"It worked with Matron, I suppose " Quistis said, thoughtfully. "You know, sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I'd been the closest one to her when Ultimecia's power transferred to Rinoa how different things could have been. Do you really believe I'm stronger than her? That I can handle it ?"
"I know you're stronger than her. Whether you can handle it that's something only you can decide. And you should probably talk it over with Zell "
"Please " she laughed nervously. "Only if you want your best unarmed combat instructor collapsing from a heart attack. I can't tell him Seifer, you know that."
"Quis, he'd kill me if anything happened to you. You have to tell him he deserves to know. I won't let you go through with it unless you at least discuss the possibility with him."
"Fine. But he'll kill you anyway for having the audacity to suggest it, so I don't really see the difference."
"Hey, he'd probably kill me if he knew I'd been hugging his wife for the past ten minutes, too."
"Yeah, right." she rolled her eyes. "I'd be more worried about my marriage if you'd been hugging Zell for the past ten minutes."
"Only cause he might like it."
"Arrogant bastard." She grinned. "You're not that amazing, mister."
"Yes, I am." He shrugged with a smile, before falling serious. "I'm sorry about before "
"Forget it. Believe it or not, I can understand what you're going through Seifer we all do. You should have told someone sooner about the nightmares We were all worried about you "
"Yeah, well like I said, I won't let it happen again. I promise. You won't have to worry about me anymore. Not that I don't appreciate it, but you shouldn't have to." He shrugged into his coat, turning for the door. "Did anything actually happen while I was napping?"
"Not really. As I said, Selphie and Irvine are back, but she couldn't find any reference whatsoever to Adrasteia, or the Vessel, anywhere in the entire Esthar library. It holds documents and scrolls dating back to the beginning of recorded time, most of them are now listed in a state of the art database system "
"And there was nothing?"
"Not according to Selphie." Quistis shook her head. "But that's not necessarily a bad thing. If there's no reference, she obviously hasn't surfaced before. And from what you said, she doesn't sound like a threat. Naturally, we can't discount it, but she seems as desperate as we are to stop Squall and Rinoa."
"Maybe the downside to that being we have no idea what she wants. Or where Rinoa fits into all this."
"Well, if everything goes to plan, the Vessel won't even matter, will it? We can stop the Sorceress, stop whatever it is she wanted to achieve we'll prevent her assembling the Vessel."
"You make it sound so simple "
"Hey, I'm as sceptical as you are. Nothing's ever that simple. But with what little knowledge we have, what else can we do?"
"Nothing " he turned, pausing with one hand on the Infirmary door for a second, as his eyes settled on a crumpled, white flower, lying on the floor by the bed. "Absolutely nothing "
It had taken twenty five minutes for his last class, a bunch of deviant little junior classmen, to settle down. The gossip was dominated by the Sorceress, and the likelihood of SeeD intervention. Some of them had looked rather disappointed when Zell finally told them the problem would be taken care of by the top ranking faculty. That had been one hell of a mistake - the rest of the hour he'd found himself fending off excited questions about his involvement in the last Sorceress War. He'd finally snapped when one of them asked if he'd feel bad about having to kill the Sorceress Knight, considering that said Knight was his best friend, once upon a time.
He'd mumbled something pathetic about not having to kill anyone - take a look at your current SeeD Commander kids, living proof that Sorceress Knight doesn't automatically carry a death sentence. Then he'd announced class was over early, and barely kept himself from breaking into a run as he hurriedly left the room.
Quistis was probably still in the Infirmary, which meant that Seifer was probably still sleeping the medication off, and Zell had no intention of seeking out the company of either of the others. He didn't really want to be alone with his thoughts, either.
He wound up in the remarkably quiet Quad, lying on one of the benches, eyes fixed on the late afternoon sun filtering through the trees, as his mind wandered. He might have had at least fifteen minutes peace, before a familiar shadow blocked out the fading sunlight's glare.
He shifted on the bench, making room, though not bothering to get up.
"So how was Esthar?"
Irvine stared at him, as if he'd just suggested banning hot dogs from the cafeteria for all eternity.
"You run into Laguna?"
"Nah, Sefie said he was workin'. So, like is she still denyin' she's crazy for him?"
"Changes the subject every time we ask." Zell nodded. "Hell, if it makes her happy, who are we to stand in her way, you know? 'Cept if they breed, we're really gonna have to draw the line at that." He smiled a little. "I mean, can you imagine the kids?" He glanced over, as Irvine laughed softly. "I'm kinda surprised you're taking it so well though."
"Why not? Ain't as though she's my girl. She never was, not really."
"Must've been good to catch up with her though, after all this time "
"Yeah, I guess. I missed her. Missed all this, if I'm honest " Irvine gestured vaguely around him.
"So why did you leave?"
"I I told you, it " Irvine began, sounding distinctly uncomfortable.
"Wasn't working out, yeah, I remember." Zell sat up, directing a cool glare at the cowboy, noticing with some satisfaction that Irvine looked incredibly nervous. With a smirk, he went on; "What the fuck are you doing back here Kinneas? And I'd like the non-bullshit version."
Irvine paled, even as a flash of anger glinted in his eyes.
"Didn't have you pegged as a busybody Zell. Or maybe there's another reason you're listenin' in on other folks private conversations, huh?"
Zell blinked, a little taken aback by the readiness of the confession. He'd expected Irvine to feign ignorance, at the very least. Especially taking into account how some of the things they'd said could be interpreted well, in a pretty damn incriminating way.
"But since you did, I guess you'll have heard my answer. Pardon me if I ain't gonna waste my breath tellin' you twice."
"But you didn't answer him, did you? I won't pretend to know why he goes so fucking easy on you, or what the hell you were talkin' about, but this affects all of us, and if you're keeping something from "
The next thing Zell knew, he was being pinned angrily back against the bench, frozen less by the lacklustre aggression in Irvine's grip - the sniper was no physical match for the martial artist, had Zell thought such force was needed - but more by the fact that the laid-back Galbadian was staring down at him with unbridled rage shining in his amethyst gaze.
He couldn't ever recall seeing Irvine so furious before. Furious, and scared.
"Listen to me, you interferin' little shit, no-one, abso-fucking-lutely no-one questions what I'm doin' here, do you understand? Not your precious Commander, and sure as fuck not you! I would never do a thing that puts him in danger, you hear me?" Irvine hissed, punctuating each sentence with a violent shake that made Zell's teeth rattle. "Nothing! Believe whatever the hell makes you happy Dincht, but know one thing - I don't give a Chocobo's ass about what Seifer says, I ain't here for him, I definitely ain't here for myself, or any of you. I'm here for Squall "
"Irvine, I "
"Forget it." the cowboy snapped, shoving the blond back down onto the bench roughly. "Just fuckin' forget it everyone else has."
"You mean Seifer, has ?"
"Seifer has no damned idea " Irvine shook his head, a fiercely determined look in his eyes. "And it's gonna stay that way."
Quistis stayed behind at the Infirmary. She claimed she needed to speak to Kadowaki about something, but he knew she was trying to give him some space. She may have accepted his apology, but he still couldn't shake his guilt.
Hyne, he should be an expert at dealing with it by now.
Since classes were over, the hallways were temporarily quiet; the resident students back at their dorms, those who lived in Balamb out at the front gate waiting for transport home. He considered taking a detour past the training center, vent his frustration on some unsuspecting monsters, but with the medication still buzzing faintly in his blood, he reluctantly conceded that wouldn't be a good idea. Damn, he shouldn't have promised both of them that he'd be careful.
He felt in desperate need of something incredibly reckless.
Ever since he was accepted back at Garden, he had been working devotedly towards this very goal. For the chance to hold his head high, surveying his Garden, his home, his world. He had known that, if he would even be absolved at all, he had to prove the place's worth to him, prove that he would irrefutably fight for the position he held.
So he sacrificed everything else, whatever he truly had left, for this, for his penitence. Gave up what were meant to be some of the best years of his life, and gained the world in return. Gained some modicum of approval. Put himself in a position that demanded respect. Even gained some forgiveness.
Seifer Almasy, ex-Sorceress Knight, bully, arrogant asshole, and general trouble magnet, flipped the rest of the known world off in the best way he knew, and had the satisfaction of watching the aforementioned world choke on the words it had to swallow.
And he hadn't regretted a second of it.
Until the day everything he wanted was suddenly thrown into battle with everything he needed. And he couldn't even pretend that he didn't know which side had to emerge victorious.
He had to lead a war against the man he loved.
"Please I don't care what it takes I can't take it anymore "
He used to imagine they were both warriors, until he realised that was just another fake, romantic dream. They weren't warriors. They weren't noble. They were killers, mercenaries. There wasn't any room for honour when cold hard cash was on the table.
And there wasn't any room for sentiment when a Sorceress was concerned.
"They are waiting. If you call them, they will answer."
They weren't the only ones waiting. He was tired of hanging around, refused to stand back and wait for more people to die.
"They must answer if you are to find what you have lost "
"I haven't lost you yet " he murmured under his breath. "And whoever the hell's playing this game, obviously don't know how much I like to win "
" call them "
Passing the corridor leading to the Quad, his drowsy attention was caught by familiar raised voices. He followed the yells cautiously, until he came across the highly unlikely picture of the lanky sharpshooter pinning down the agile, muscular martial artist.
"What the hell are you two doing?" He couldn't quite keep the amusement from his voice.
"Teachin' Zelly baby to keep his nose outta other people's business." Irvine growled, the interruption apparently not enough incentive to let Zell go. "But o'course, you're here to rescue his worthless little ass, huh?"
"What?" Seifer frowned. "Irvine, what the hell's wrong with you?"
"Bastard's gone crazy, that's what's wrong with him!" Zell howled. "I was just talkin' to him and he snaps! Get this fricking lunatic off of me!"
"He knows." Irvine stared at Seifer, meaningfully. "He was listenin' to us talk outside the hotel."
"I wasn't listenin'!" Zell argued loudly, "It isn't my fault if you two gotta conduct your private business right under people's goddamned window! Does this mean I can't even breathe in case I happen to overhear you two?"
"Shut up Zell!" Both other men shouted in unison.
"Tch, fine " Zell muttered, finally using his considerable power advantage to twist in Irvine's grasp, and push the cowboy off with enough force to teeter backwards, and topple into the bushes. Irvine glared murderously at him, as he picked himself up. Zell smiled back sweetly. "Hey, I did ask you nicely to let me go lunatic."
Seifer caught Irvine just in time, before he launched himself at the tattooed blond once more.
"Hey, come on, calm down " he loosened his hold on Irvine's arms, just a fraction. "It's okay. Do you honestly think it matters anymore if Zell does know?"
"Zell doesn't know anything!" Zell protested. "Zell's just jumpin' to wild conclusions."
"Please." Seifer looked over, a faint smile tugging at the corner of his lips. "We've already established that you aren't as stupid as you look Chicken-wuss "
"Seifer " Irvine stared at him. "Don't "
"If you call them they must answer."
"It doesn't matter, either way." he glanced between them, from confused cobalt blue eyes, to pained violet ones. "Are you both junctioned?"
"What?" Zell frowned. "I don't think this is worth fighting over "
"I'm not." Irvine shook his head. "Didn't imagine it necessary, not here "
"Yeah " he nodded, bewildered. "Always. Why?"
"Irvine, find Quistis and Selphie. I want the three of you back here, fully equipped. Understand?"
Irvine watched him for a long moment, and Seifer could practically pinpoint the second the cowboy realised what he was planning. He turned, and left the Quad at a run.
"Seifer the hell's going on?"
"Well, I don't know about you, but I'm not the patient type. So, we're ending this game a little early, Zell. Are you up for that?"
"What do you ?" Zell's eyes widened. "Gods you know where they are? You've figured out what she wants?"
"Not exactly. But I do know how to find them."
"Hyne I'm almost afraid to ask." Zell sighed. "How?"
"Y'see, Rinny thinks I have something that belongs to her ."
"No idea." Seifer shook his head. "And I don't think she's sure either. But there's only one way to find out." he turned, glancing up, feeling an odd shiver of triumph as he watched the storm clouds already rolling in. He drew Hyperion from it's sheath, giving it a couple of experimental slices through the eerily still air.
"Which is ?"
"If they want me, here I am." He turned back towards the storm, whispering; "Come and get me."
Nothing. For a moment, everything was still, the entire Quad was plunged into deep silence. He could feel Zell's puzzled, pitying stare boring into the back of his head.
The violent gust of wind came from nowhere.
Like rag dolls caught in Pandemona's vacuum, Seifer and Zell were propelled into the air, slamming hard into the adjacent wall. Hyperion was knocked from Seifer's hand, clattering hopelessly out of his reach.
Dazed, he got to his knees, trying to prioritise between retrieving the gunblade, and ensuring that Zell wasn't injured.
The decision was made for him.
Seifer raised his head, to be greeted by the pulsing blue tip of Lionheart.
"Hey, lover." Behind the outstretched blade, Squall's smile was entirely devoid of emotion. "Did you miss me?"
To Be Continued
Authors Notes -
YAY!! SQUALL!! Only took five chapters (But still no smut! Cruel, evil Seshat ^_^)
This chapter just sorta happened. I had every intention of being good, and responsible and devoting my time to the demands of Real-Life™ this week, but I just started writing, and ta-da! Besides, Real-Life ™ isn't all it's cracked up to be as a result though, there might be a bit of a delay in posting chapter six. Unless someone wants to give me a crash course in how Chomsky's theories forever altered the study of linguistics. No? Ah well
Don't know if anyone's any less confused by now. If you AREN'T confused, you clearly haven't been paying enough attention ^_<
Anyway, enjoy, review (PLEASE!!!!!), and let me know what you think. Hell, you can even tell me what you think's going on. Could be interesting
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