By fyre byrd

Squall waited in his office, his black boots propped up on his desk and bit his nails. There was a knock on the door and Squall let his hands drop to his desk and called out, "come in," watching as Quistis, Irvine, Selphie and Zell crowded into the room.

"What's up, man?" Zell asked, after several seconds of silence, driving his fist into the palm of his other hand and bouncing impatiently on his toes. Squall raised and eyebrow and slid his feet off of the desk, sitting up smoothly in his seat and nodding at all of them.

"You've all heard about Galbadia's search for the Sorceress' Knight," he said cooly. "Well, at Quistis' urging I contacted Esthar for support in opposing Galbadia's action. I received confirmation of their support this afternoon. They have already deployed a contingent of soldiers to defend our position here should it becomes necessary." None of the group looked surprised. Quistis was smiling fiercely and Selphie clapped her hands and Irvine and Zell simply nodded.

"Each one of you will assemble a search party. Don't hesitate to choose the very best people you can find. I trust your discretion. When the Estharian soldiers arrive I expect all of you to be prepared to leave immediately."

"What about you?" Quistis asked.

"I'll be staying here. Much as I would like to secure Seifer's safety myself. I have to be responsible for any reaction from Galbadia should they get wind of our plans." Quistis opened her mouth to protest perhaps, but Squall frowned and she cast down her eyes and left the thought unvoiced.

All four saluted and left the office. Selphie was gesticulating wildly and Irvine had his arm around her waist. Squall sighed as he watched them leave and went back to tearing pieces of his nails off with his teeth. It was too bad that he'd become even more isolated from them after Time Compression. As Commander he had less time for himself now that things were more peaceful rather than the opposite. Time to think and regret and lose himself more and more in his memories.

Squall saw the search parties off bitterly, wishing that he was able to leave the dreary comfortlessness of the school for even a day. Squall had spoken with Nida and all of the highest ranking SeeDs onboard Balamb Garden about their part in the events that were about to unfold. Such was their respect for their Commander that not one of them questioned his motives in helping a known criminal escape justice. Well, that is how he imagined some of them felt about Seifer.

Squall returned to his office wearily and reflected that he had never really hated the blonde-haired man who wore a scar that matched his own across his forehead. He'd resented Seifer's increasingly antagonistic attitude, despised Seifer's actions during the culmination of Ultimecia's plots and pitied Seifer's headlong flight towards his own destruction. When Seifer had forced Rinoa to join with Adel, that had been the act of a desperate man, whether controlled by a Sorceress or not. All that Squall knew was that he understood Seifer and that the man who had ruthlessly carried out the Sorceress' orders had seemed a humourless shadow of the man Squall had known only weeks before. Squall sat down at his desk and watched the ranks of Estharian troops below the window. Raising a bloodied fingertip to his mouth, he bit at the flesh and pressed his tongue against the bead of blood that welled there. Squall didn't hate Seifer, but he had not forgiven him. Seifer had betrayed him, betrayed everyone by backing the Sorceress. Obviously it was Seifer who hated all of them. If he'd had any feeling for any of them besides hatred, he couldn't, wouldn't have tried to kill them all more than once. Squall followed orders to the letter, not worrying about the morals which prompted his actions, but he'd never have betrayed his allies the way that Seifer had done.

Quistis was standing in the doorway, lit by the greenish-yellow glow of the phosphorescent lights. "What are you doing in here? I looked everywhere for you."

Squall sat up at his desk and stretched, feeling the muscles in his back twinge. "I must have fallen asleep, waiting for something to happen. Apparently Galbadia doesn't fancy its chances against both Balamb and Esthar. Wait a minute, what the hell are you doing back here so soon?" Quistis raised a pale eyebrow and moved to run on the lights in Squall's office, making him blink several times against the sudden glare.

"Irvine's team has found Seifer. He was hiding out somewhere in the Trabia Snowfields. He tried to call you here, but got no reply." Squall's gaze flickered down to his phone, where the message light blinked mockingly at him. "So my mission to Dollet was pretty short."

"What is his condition?" Squall asked formally, itching to bite his nails. He tried never to do it with someone else in the room, however.

"Apparently, he's just fine and already complaining that we didn't do something sooner," Quistis said, with a little golden laugh.

Squall was sitting in the restaurant at the Balamb hotel looking out the window at the setting sun. The flickering candlelight in the room let the oranges and reds blaze brilliantly into the room, painting everything with a soft, colourful glow. Out of the corner of his eye, Squall could see Seifer, sitting across from him at the table. Squall didn't remember speaking a word to Seifer since he'd returned to Garden.

"Squall," Seifer said suddenly, startlingly. Squall turned quickly and saw that the cool green eyes had been focused on his profile the whole while he stared out the window.

"What're you staring at, Almasy?" Squall said coldly, unable to forget that Seifer just did not care about him, unable to forget everything that had happened between them.

"Nothing," Seifer began, turning his face away slightly, then turning back and piercing Squall with the full force of his glass-green gaze again. "You." he said. "Listen, Squall I know you don't give a fuck about me, but don't leave me here. I always get left somewhere, at an orphanage, with a sorceress, in a prison and in a few seconds you'll be gone, just like everything." Squall felt confused, felt the room spinning strangely and it seemed there was no one else here but Seifer, and indeed there wasn't a single other person in the room. There had never been anyone else who was real for Squall the way that Seifer was real. Seifer's thick dark lashes lowered over his eyes which glimmered in the candlelight and he stood up and leaned across the table and pressed surprisingly soft lips to Squall's, making him gasp. "Just, take me with you this time." Seifer said softly and shattered into a million pieces of darkness. Squall sat up at his desk, feeling his heart pound so hard that it ached in his chest. He rubbed his eyes across his face and looked up.

Quistis was standing in the doorway, her face, drained of every drop of blood, was lit by the greenish-yellow glow of the phosphorescent lights.

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