Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to the Final Fantasy series. They belong to Squaresoft.
Let Me Make It Alright
Chapter 45: "Only A Step Between One And Perdition"
By Angry Angel
Wake me up inside
Call my name and save me from the Dark
Bid my blood to run
Before I come undone
Save me from the nothing I've become.
- "Bring Me to Life" by Evanescence
..::: "I'm the sorceress knight." :::..
Those words, spat with a snarling voice drenched in both false pride and arrogance, were echoing inside Squall's mind so loudly that the brunette thought he was going to burst from the intensity. He had heard and he had understood, but he did not want to believe. Of course, the cold and barren vacancy in the green orbs that had once shone like gems of precious emerald was reality enough, yet Squall could not accept that Seifer had, once again, been turned against him like an adversarial pawn in a petty game of chess.
Why did destiny always place them on opposite fronts?
Breathing sharply through thinly parted lips, Squall was desperately trying to comprehend how Ultimecia had managed to pit Seifer against him on yet another occasion. In earlier months, the brunette had come to the conclusion that Seifer's change of sides had probably been natural, and all the more so been made possible by people always labeling Seifer a trouble maker and never giving him a chance to prove that he was more than a mere rebel. Instead, they had excluded him from numerous training courses, loaded the most ridiculous chores upon him and branded him a disturber of the peace with nothing but a lack of discipline, when all he had ever wanted was to become a SeeD.
Indeed, there had been ample factors caused by uptight instructors and cold-hearted former officials that had laid down a most beneficiary soil for the sorceress to harvest upon, and, more likely than not, those had ultimately resulted in Seifer's primal "treason".
This one, however, Squall blamed solely on himself.
"Seifer," he tried again hopefully, choking down his hurt feelings. "That's not you."
He only managed to stir an amused laugh from the blonde in front of him and the sorceress in his back. Seifer was casually tapping his gunblade against his shoulder, but his eyes had zeroed in on Squall in a most aggravating manner. The rapturous glint in those jade oculates was more than concerning, and Squall's senses had been flipped to alert status a long time ago.
Still, he couldn't be found wavering.
"She's using you, Seifer. Don't let her. You're stronger than that."
"You're the only one that's ever been using me."
As thoroughly poised and careless as Seifer might have whispered those words, they did sting deep within Squall's soul. To be told that he had been using Seifer was more than unsettling, but worst of all, something was trying to convince the brunette that his opposite was utterly right, and said 'something' was feasting eagerly upon the agony erected by the blonde's cruel statement.
"But that's stopping right here and right now," Seifer continued.
Eyebrows converged and his mouth crushed to a narrow line, Squall was carefully watching how Seifer stepped closer to him with that typical self-satisfied, malicious smirk curling his lips in joyful anticipation.
"You don't know what you're saying," Squall bristled. "That's not you talking. I know it's not."
"See what I care about your opinion, Leonhart."
Gasping in shock, Squall ducked a sudden quick and almost invisible coup of Seifer's blade that had been dealt right to his chest. Quickly, he edged back a step or two, his features contorted painfully at the mask of delight that was Seifer's face.
"You're fast," the blonde commented happily. "Let's see just how fast you are, ice prince."
Again, the brunette had to twirl half-way around his own axis to evade yet another dangerous flick of the other man's sword. Had the first strike only appeared like a mere attempt of testing his reactions and playing with his mind, this one had definitely been aimed to hurt him.
Playfully, Seifer clicked his tongue as if in frustration over his miss, but the jeer in his eyes belied that canting gesture.
Squall let out a hiss of air.
This time, the brunette had hesitated just a second too long in his efforts of breaking through to Seifer's clouded consciousness. A horizontally swung blow had slashed into his left biceps before he had been able to dodge out of reach, and the sharp pain that seared through his arm forced Squall to bite down hard upon his teeth.
With pleasure, the blonde intently studied the trail of cerise blood that came oozing out of the gaping lesion inflicted by his very hands. Deepest crimson was snaking its way into the white fabric of Squall's shirt, quickly tingeing it in the vibrant color of the SeeD commander's life stream.
"Not so fast after all, I reckon," the sorceress knight observed with a complacent sneer.
When Seifer lunged his blade out in a repeated shot at injuring his younger rival, Squall realized that he ran a good chance of losing a few limbs or worse if he wouldn't start to defend himself any time soon. Hence, he let his gaze roam his surrounding in search of his sword, and he found it laying only a few feet away, at the same spot to which Seifer had tossed it short minutes before.
Squall sped for the glassy looking blade without hesitation, and as he ducked yet another fearsome blow, he managed to drop low into his knees and snatched LionHeart off the ground as he rose back to full height, immediately flipping the weapon in his hands and taking a defensive stance.
Instantly, Squall had to recognize that his sacred gunblade was no more. Sure, it looked a sword like most, but the brunette could feel the difference at his very touch. The lucid spirit that had once streamed through the handle into his every movement had been vanquished, and left was nothing but a dead shell that trembled in an aura of ash and decay.
All in all, it was much more difficult for Squall to bear that feeling of rotten goodness than the stinging ache in his upper arm.
"You gonna try and fight me with that piece of shit? Oh please." Seifer drawled ironically.
More laborious than anything, though, was the rite of stomaching the blonde's hostile presence.
Looking at Seifer in his current state, listening to his sniggering and absorbing the hatred in his condescending words was getting far too much to bear. The pain was comparable to that of a glass splinter slowly working its way into one's heart, carefully ensuring to cause an extra great amount of damage and leave a soul that would be broken beyond repair.
Despite his years as an orphan and a mercenary, the brunette could not recall to ever have felt such raw and clawing misery.
Ignoring his physical anguish was easily accomplished, banishing the mental agony however, was not.
With a snort of laughter that was oblivious or indifferent to the brunette's dismay, Seifer charged for Squall's figure under the watchful eyes of the sorceress Ultimecia and the Guardian Force Griever once more. This time, however, the smaller brunette fiercely met the blonde's silver blade with his own. The dead sword LionHeart was vibrating in Squall's grasp at the force of the impact, and the SeeD had trouble stabilizing it in his hold.
"You're too funny, Leonhart. Don't tell me you really believe you can beat me with that thing?"
Instead of answering, Squall caught another series of blows that were dealt right to his most viable body parts, and he found himself steadily retreating from the blonde's form, which only provoked another cynical remark from his opponent.
"In fact, do you really think you can beat me at all?" Seifer laughed spitefully, while aiming stoically for the brunette's body.
And as Squall continuously dodged those assaults with all the dexterity and elegance his unsettled self could muster, he realized that in the end, Seifer was in some sense all too right.
He could not win.
Yet, there was still one flaw in the blonde's theory.
"You'll never beat me with that thing."
Seifer seemed oddly content in that brilliant realization of his, and for a moment, he halted in his onslaught. In front of him, Squall was still lowered slightly and standing on bended knees, a perfect posture when trying to defend oneself. His breath came tumbling low from his chest in an erratic rhythm, much too fast and much too shallow. His eyes were gleaming with restive alert as he had locked them upon Seifer's, but deep within, he was thinking.
Was he really letting this happen?
After all that had been?
There was still that fell voice echoing inside his head, eagerly trying to drown out his concerns and working hard on tangling his thoughts, but its power had lessened distinctly ever since Seifer's attacks.
Controlling two minds was, after all, much more troublesome than toying with just one.
And as that realization finally struck Squall as it should have had so long ago, so did the memories of the passed weeks that had changed his life and soul much more than he had ever thought possible. Images were flashing in front of his inner eye at rapid speed; images that had burnt themselves into his heart forever and that never had anything to do with Ultimecia.
Seifer - standing in the doorway of Squall's hospital room, still holding open the door in insecure confusion and poorly hidden discomfort.
Seifer - cooking dinner on their very first night, so carefully ensuring that Squall would eat.
Seifer - laying on the couch with his head close to Squall's leg, smiling as if nothing bad had ever happened to either of them.
Seifer - organising a picnic in the orchard that Squall had only too much enjoyed.
Seifer - saving Squall's life in the cavernous darkness of a night in which the hurt brunette had meant to put an end to his own existence.
Seifer - steadying Squall in the shower and easing his pain, simply by being there and holding him close.
Seifer - curing Squall's fever and morgue longings with selfless gentleness and infinite patience.
Seifer - going out for a dinner with Squall on a night that couldn't have been more beautiful.
Seifer - kissing Squall in a long suppressed act of love and desire.
The essence of all those memories, all those pictures, was and always had been Seifer Almasy. And the feelings that Squall could effortlessly connect with each of those images couldn't possibly be any closer to true affection, ceaseless thankfulness and a happiness that the brunette had never experienced before.
True feelings, indeed.
One year ago, Squall had willingly let Seifer go, but this time, everything was different.
The eighteen year old brunette had been frightened to his very core, and his coldly exercised calm had been shattered into a thousand pieces at the prospect of losing his friend and rival yet again. He had been able to handle Seifer's first leave, but the prospect of a second departure he was unwilling to consent or even accept.
Sure, it would have been easy enough to blame the change of his emotions on Ultimecia's involvement, but Squall knew better than that.
Sentiments of such tempestuousness, nourished and steadied over almost two decades of time, couldn't simply be engrafted into somebody's psyche by mere manipulation, no matter how powerful the intruder might have been to begin with.
Feelings, after all, were not borne by the mind but by the heart.
And as Squall slowly straightened his knees, raising his head high in defiance and lowering his sword in a surrendering gesture of innocence, he snapped his glare to the sorceress' arrogant face and slit his eyes with greatest self assurance.
"You," he spoke with a voice that dominated the air with ease, "Cannot make me feel anything."
Judging by the surprise that flashed across the pale woman's features, she was at least taken aback by Squall's sudden display of resistance and transcendence. The brunette, however, took no time to inquire any longer on the witch's state of mind. Instead, he flicked his head back around to gaze at Seifer.
The brawny blonde stood about a good ten feet away from the SeeD's position, and he was eyeing Squall with peculiar interest. The younger could see no change in either his friend's expression or his posture, but he hadn't expected to find any in the first place.
In any case, he was fully aware of Ultimecia's potency concerning mind control.
The blonde gave another rasp chuckle at the sound of his name, voiced with deepest intimacy from the lips of a brunette he could not really recall to ever have carried any romantic feelings for.
"Spare me your bullshit, Leonhart," he groaned with feigned annoyance.
"I have no reason to bullshit you," Squall answered impassively, and the simple energy in those words forced Seifer's ears to perk up. "None of what I'm going to tell you now is any less but the truth."
Lazily, the blonde shifted his weight and commenced tapping his gunblade against his shoulders once more, his face giving away neither curiosity nor interest.
Deep down though, he was listening, despite that familiar nagging voice trying to pique his anger.
"You're right," Squall continued. "I can't beat you."
With those words, his right fist unclenched finger by finger, ultimately dropping the sword it had thus far been holding. The eviscerated form of LionHeart hit the nocturnal onyx ground with a clatter, but Squall did not bat a lash at the sound. His stare was fixed upon his friend, and his figure was absolutely motionless.
Across from him, Seifer arched a golden eyebrow as if in doubt over Squall Leonhart's sanity.
That SeeD was stupid enough to cast away his weapon in the cross hair of the enemy?
Irritation and confusion rippled atop the surface of Seifer's viridian green eyes, inevitably feeding Squall with all the information that he had needed.
This cause was yet far from lost.
"I could never beat you, because I don't want to."
Vainly, the blonde snickered at that 'preposterous' comment, but he shut up quickly as he saw no motion coming from the fair lines of Squall's face and the sea blue depths of his watchful oculates.
Was he serious?
"You, Seifer, are the last person on this planet that I would want to harm, and that has nothing to do with Ultimecia, or anyone else for that matter. It concerns nobody but you."
Squall's right, gloved hand had moved to the wound inflicted upon his biceps, and he sighed deeply as he closed his palm over the gaping flesh. He didn't even think of using a cure spell on himself; all he wanted was to touch the only connection that existed between him and Seifer for the time being.
All along, he had sensed so strongly that Seifer was more to him than a mere rival or even a helpful friend. Whether or not his trenchant doubts had been risen by the witch Ultimecia or his general lack of experience concerning human relationships was of course debatable, but he knew that he would rather lay down his own life than hurt the blonde man in front of him in any way. At some point, he might have felt different, and he probably had, but the past did no longer matter.
Seifer Almasy had given him warmth, comfort and, for the very first time in his eighteen year long existence, the feeling of not being alone in this world that was almost as cold as his heart had once been.
Like hell if he was going to destroy that.
"I owe my life to you," he whispered gently and with much more strain to his voice, "And I will forever be in your debt. I know that I always acted too preoccupied to care, but that's not how I really felt. I... I had built all those walls around me, because I was afraid of being hurt. I didn't want to let anybody in. I pushed you away, countless times, I... I realize that now. And you know what... I was wrong."
A sad smile twitched across Squall's lips at the sound of that last statement, and even Seifer's frown had frozen in place, giving him much resemblance to a bronze statue. Unnoticed, the sneer had faded from his reflection, and while two demons were still battling fiercely deep within his consciousness, he couldn't do much but listen to the soothing calm in Squall's voice.
Afar from them, Ultimecia was watching the scene with rising impatience, but she was still too much of a megalomaniac to realize that her own influence on her sorceress knight was crumpling under the sincerity of Squall's clumsy, but heartfelt revelations. Furthermore, even she was easily enthralled by such an unexpected display of emotions, coming from the very ice prince himself, closest human kin to the guardian force Shiva that had probably ever graced the green of the planet.
It was intriguing, to say the least.
"You were always there for me, but I didn't want to acknowledge it. I couldn't trust myself to believe that maybe... you really cared for me... so I didn't want to care for you, either. I guess I was just fooling myself, and I'm not sure why I actually fell for my own lies. I should have known. Like... like when we were kids and we were admitted into Garden... you have no idea how glad I was that you were with me. I was so frightened... and as much trouble as we always had, there is no other person that I would've rather wanted to have around me all those years. None other, not even Ellone."
Steadily, Squall's voice had slowed to a rasp drawl, raw emotions swaying in each intonation that pressed past his tongue. His gaze had never left Seifer's face, and with every little secret that he managed to free from the iron keep of his heart, his eyes were shifting colors from stormy grey to sanguine sapphire, hue by hue.
Drawing an arduous breath through his nose, he continued.
"And you know why I was so upset last night? I wasn't even angry... I was just... hurt, I guess. You probably don't even remember, but when you were talking to Fujin, you said that you were going to leave Balamb Garden before long. I... I was... shocked, I think, even if it was wrong of me to just assume that things would stay the way that they were. I didn't see how frustrated you were, I was so blind. I don't know what I was thinking, but I know that the prospect of losing you scared me more than anything in my life ever has..."
There was still no reaction to be perceived from Seifer's end, not until the brunette suddenly took two steps into his direction. Immediately, the blonde flipped up his sword in a mechanic gesture, his hand trembling only ever so slightly. His face was a mask, a shadow, entirely expressionless, but Squall was frightened neither by that nor by the sharp edge of the blade that was unmistakably pointed at his chest. By abandoning LionHeart, he had not only dropped his weapon, but also torn down all the walls and defenses that he had pulled up around himself over the greater part of his young life.
Squall had surrendered entirely, and still, he was not scared.
"You know," he breathed with a smile, "I'm not here because some manipulative voice in my head told me to come. I'm here because you asked me to. I think... I think I was always too proud to tell you how I felt, and I was way too afraid to get hurt. I guess I could just so damn easily blame all my emotions and my difficulties on Ultimecia, but that wouldn't be the truth. Truth is, I cared for you years before that bitch thought she could mess with our lives."
Long after Hyperion's tip had already grazed the fabric of the shirt covering Squall's skin, the brunette could witness how Seifer was gradually retracting his sword arm, inch by inch and synchronous to the pace that Squall was stepping into him.
The younger halted about an arm's length before the blonde, one hand still pressed against his biceps.
"Stop," Seifer finally groaned with faltering arrogance. "I'm the sorceress knight, SeeD."
Squall lowered his head and his gaze, but his lips were still drawn to a gentle smile.
"That's fine, too," he replied with a soft shrug of his shoulders. "I know you're listening. That's all that matters."
Suddenly, he removed his hand from his wound, and both men stared intently at the blood drenching the dark leather. Squall had to blink past the silver of Hyperion that was still tipped against his chest, and with a quiet sigh, he peeled his gloves off his fingers. First, he removed the right, blood-soaked one, then the other, and he let them flop to the ground carelessly. On his right hand, he was wearing the ring that Seifer had returned to him from Rinoa's keeping, but he paid no real attention to that. His focus was heeded to the reddish scars imprinted into his palms.
"Remember," Squall spoke up again, "How you touched these in the restaurant?"
Vaguely, he raised his hands to Seifer's eyes, and he could see how the blonde was glancing at them before he cast his arcanely blue vision back towards the ground as if in embarrassment.
"You said that everything would heal with time. I never believed into that 'all things will heal with time' bullshit, but I think you were right. You were right, because you meant it. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't even be alive anymore. I don't really know why I wanted to kill myself that night, whether it was her fault or mine, but I would have done it, if it hadn't been for you. You... saved me. You've saved me all along, even though I fought against it, even though I never wanted to trust you. I was so wrong. I recovered, because of you. I'd be lost and long gone without you, but I'm... really thankful that I'm not. And now... now... I don't want to lose you."
He flicked his gaze up anew at that statement, his eyes shining with earnest emotion and dedication behind lashes of deepest black. His heart was pounding ceaselessly, and he quivered when he saw that at least some of the dullness in the green gems that were fixed upon him had faded. He knew that he was still in danger, that he could still be fatally pierced by that blade that had wounded him countless times, but he also understood that surrendering alone would not save the man he cared for so very deeply.
It took an act that was even more powerful than capitulation.
It took words that he had never once spoken in his life, words that were a gift that he had never wanted to give to anyone and that, above all things, he had always considered a sign of weakness.
Words that couldn't have sounded more sincere, because they were spoken from the very bottom of his heart.
"I trust you."
And as he cocked his head to the side ever so slightly, consciously intensifying the sparkle in his ocean blue eyes and the warmth in his smile, he drew his right foot heavily off the onyx ground and took a firm step forward.
Because one step was all that he had.
=To be continued!=
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