Chapter One - Encounters
Squall spotted him the minute he’d come striding out of the hotel, that long-legged gait, wide shoulders, the few strands of flaxen hair that he never could quite keep from spilling over his forehead. Squall would know him anywhere, and never even have to see his face. He looked much the same as he always did, his hair was styled the same, his boots were the same, a little scarred, maybe, but that was to be expected.
Surprisingly enough, no one even turned to glance his way when he walked by. Strange to realize his reign of terror hadn’t lasted long, people didn’t seem to notice his presence when of course they knew who he was. They had to know. Squall felt sorrow for what Seifer had become, when once he’d had everything it took to be a leader. Now he looked as though life had kicked him one too many times and he no longer had the fire in him. The way he walked down the street, seemingly invisible to everyone, including himself, spoke volumes to Squall. He was a man defeated; a man lost and here was his chance to make things right again.
He followed him covertly, taking care to maintain a certain distance between them. While he had no idea where Seifer would go next, Squall would follow and by the time he’d reached Seifer’s side he hoped he’d have the right words to give him. Explaining his presence in Esthar would be relatively easy, given the fact that his father was President here. But somehow Squall doubted that Seifer would be privy to any of the details regarding life in Balamb Garden after his departure. Any information he could have gleaned simply by listening to people talk in bars would be limited, at best. Squall wondered if Seifer’s interest had extended to Balamb at all. After all, he’d had friends there, once. And now, without those friends behind him, whom did he have to turn to, to depend on? Squall’s suspicions about that were what had led him here in the first place. And it was all hinged on the condition that Seifer wanted to see him at all.
Quistis had struck a nerve with her talk of his feelings toward Seifer. They were ambiguous to say the least but one thing held true throughout everything that happened. Something inside of him, some weakness within himself would not allow Seifer’s image to fade completely from his mind. Even when his hatred for Seifer had burned brighter than anything he could imagine, some part of him had loved him still.
Interesting when you considered that Seifer had never made any sort of overtures toward Squall. The electricity that existed between them had been unspoken, always. And Squall had done his best to see to it that an opportunity for Seifer to reveal his feelings would never arise. For then where would they be? No, it was better for everyone and easier for them in particular to simply hate. And so they’d hated, fiercely, but what now?
Squall took this opportunity to scrutinize Seifer’s appearance undetected. He moved through the crowds of people without glancing around to see if anyone watched him. Squall knew that Seifer was used to drawing glances, but now, he imagined that the stares he garnered were not the sort that Seifer had grown accustomed to while he was head of the Disciplinary Committee. Those people who did notice him weren’t looking at him with admiration or awe. Their feelings about him were clear enough to read. He was a defector; a betrayer and no one wanted to know him now.
Seifer appeared untouched by the scornful glares he occasionally drew. To some, he was just another face in a crowd, but to those whose lives had been touched directly by the Sorceress’ War, he was beyond contempt.
He appeared not to notice the more hostile glances that were aimed at him, whether he was actually aware or not, Squall couldn’t guess. He wore gray pants that hung more loosely on his hips than usual; he looked a bit leaner. There was no sign of his trenchcoat, he carried no weapon. His vest was open and flapped in the breeze as he picked up speed, apparently eager to be free of the crowd. Squall wondered where he stayed, or if he even had somewhere to stay at all.
As he followed him, watched him from behind, it all felt so surreal, as though he were moving within a dream. One that he’d had a hundred times since he’d last lay eyes on Seifer Almasy. Squall felt the familiar twinge and recognized it for what it was. It was the feeling that he’d thought he’d buried long ago, so deep that it would never again see the light of day. How naïve he’d been to think he could simply turn his back on this, on him.
Soon enough the crowded streets and city lights gave way to starry skies, trees and jagged edges of cliffs with the occasional patch of grass. Squall became aware of the change in the air, the cooler temperature, the wind that ruffled his collar, and he shivered slightly. Soon he would have to make his presence known and he grew uneasy when he realized that he’d followed Seifer out into the middle of nowhere. They were completely alone. But this was what he’d come for, what he’d traveled so far to accomplish, the moment of truth was at hand and he was determined to see it through to whatever end would come.
Seifer paused to lean casually against the base of a cliff, casually looking out into an almost dry riverbed. He was still, eerily so, and Squall stood silently, berating himself for coming so far and yet having no idea of what he planned to say. And then the voice that he’d heard so many times in his sleep since the war had ended broke into his reverie and took him back to a place he was sure he’d left behind.
"Did you follow me down here to finish me off, Commander? Not really your style, is it, to be so sneaky?"
There was a flash of light and Seifer’s profile was visible for only a second as he lit his cigarette casually, shaking out the match and then tossing it aside. Squall heard his first deep draw on the cigarette and then he focused entirely, insanely, on the glowing tip while he tripped through his jumbled thoughts for an appropriate response. Seifer laughed quietly, a decidedly mirthless sound. It sounded hollow to Squall’s ears.
"Well, you haven’t changed much, I see. Still don’t have much to say, do you?"
Squall made a move in Seifer’s direction, denial on the edge of his tongue, but not quick enough, it seemed.
"Don’t come any closer. I don’t want to have to kill you, Squall."
Squall’s eyes widened and his heartbeat accelerated as he began to realize the potential danger he’d placed himself in. He felt absently for the hilt of his gunblade and breathed an easy breath as he fingered its comforting solidity. Seifer had his back turned to him still, but his voice had tightened and his stance had stiffened significantly.
"Don’t even think about it." Seifer warned him gruffly and Squall pulled his hand away reflexively.
"I didn’t come here to kill you." His voice was husky from going days without so much as uttering a word to anyone. "When did you realize I was following you?" He asked hesitantly, a little mollified at having his stealth compromised.
"When I left the hotel. I saw you through the crowd."
Squall narrowed his eyes in the darkness. "So you led me out here…to what?" The irritation in his voice brought a small smile to Seifer’s lips. Some things never changed, it seemed.
"I didn’t want to get any blood on the sidewalks. In case you didn’t notice, I’m not real popular here." He said with a self-deprecating laugh.
Squall began to focus his gaze on Seifer, the long lines of his body slowly sharpening in the darkness.
"It’s a big city." Squall answered vaguely.
"Yeah, well, bad news travels fast, you know? No matter how far you go, it follows you."
Squall took a halting step in Seifer’s direction; careful to keep his voice low and modulated, much as one did when approaching a wild animal.
"I don’t want to kill you, Seifer. I’ve come a long way to find you. You’re not an easy man to find, you know." He added wryly.
Seifer turned to face him then, his expression wary, his body poised for flight.
"Why did you come, then?" He demanded, all pretense gone.
Squall paused, considering his words carefully. If he said the wrong thing, his journey would have been in vain. He couldn’t go back to Balm knowing he’d failed…again.
"I wondered how you were getting by." He said honestly, leaving out all the things he’d wanted to say.
Seifer made a disbelieving voice and moved closer to Squall, the moon shedding very little light, wreathing Seifer’s face in shadows; all dark planes and angles.
"You came all this way to see how I was doing?" He snorted. "Try again."
"Well, actually, I was planning to visit…"
Seifer cut him off. "Dear old Dad? Don’t think so, Leonhart, try it one more time, and make it your last."
Squall bowed his head, closing his eyes against the haunting familiarity of Seifer’s clear voice, his green, green eyes.
"I came here for you." He muttered, almost inaudible, but he knew Seifer had heard him. "I came to take you back."
Seifer backed away. "I’m not going back to Balamb, Squall, you can just forget that shit. I’ve survived this long on my own, and I’ve done okay. I won’t let you drag me back there to be locked away for the rest of my life." He whispered urgently, the emotion in his voice knocking Squall back like a sucker punch.
"You think I came all this way to have you locked away?" The disbelief in his voice didn’t escape Seifer, and if he knew anything about Leonhart, it was that he didn’t lie – ever.
"Why else would you spend so much time looking for me?" He asked.
Squall took his chances and moved closer still, so close that the scar on Seifer’s forehead was plainly visible to him.
"I feel responsible for what you’ve gone through." He paused, silent for a few seconds as he recalled the long months that had passed in Seifer’s absence.
"We deserted you when you needed us. We could have stuck by you then. If we had, maybe you wouldn’t be here right now."
Seifer cocked his head, searching Squall’s face for any hint of deception. He found none.
"My actions were my own, Squall. I deserve whatever fate hands me, it’s nothing you need to concern yourself with." He looked over Squall’s shoulder, the city lights just barely visible on the horizon.
"Go home, Squall. You can’t save me. I’m beyond redemption and you know it."
Squall halted him then, when he would have brushed past him and left him alone in the dark.
"Come back with me, Seifer. We can change things, you can come home, it doesn’t have to end like this."
Seifer smiled, a small, lopsided grin that Squall had never seen before. The breath halted in his chest.
"You know what they say, Leonhart. You can’t ever go home again."
"You’re not a quitter, Almasy. I thought you were better than this." It was his last ditch effort to make him see reason.
Seifer grabbed Squall’s collar and pulled him close, so close that he could feel the taller boy’s breath on his cheek.
"Don’t mind-fuck me, Squall. I’m not the kid I used to be. I’m not the person you remember. Just forget all about me and go back to your Garden. I don’t want to go down that road again, not even for you."
And then he released him as suddenly as he’d come upon him and he was striding away from Squall with more determination than he really felt. The ache in his chest was his punishment, the price he’d pay for his pride. But his pride was all he had left, and to Seifer, he had nothing else. And so he walked away, even though it felt like he’d had his heart ripped from his body. His heart, he laughed silently. And he’d thought it was gone forever. Damn you, Leonhart…
*to be continued
Return to Archive | next | previous