Chapter Eight - Seein’ Red
Follow the leader now… Swallow your pride and drown…
He stood there, in all his stoic glory, for what seemed like hours. While the man who’d taught him what it meant to truly hurt slumped before him on his knees, his head hanging pitifully. Squall felt the first telltale pinprick of the arrow pierce his heart, and it stung. As though it were coated in poison; the venom of years of hollow disappointment, all of it belonging solely to Seifer Almasy. Only now it belonged to Squall too.
It was then that Squall’s pent up rage reared its ugly head. Someone had done to Seifer what Seifer had done to him and he didn’t like it. Something had happened to his longtime rival, something that had broken him and yet here he was. Whole and golden and perfect, but was he? The bitter tears that were leaving tracks across his cheeks told a different story. Where was Seifer’s self-confidence now? Who had taken it from him?
He knew that there was a hell of a lot that Seifer wasn’t telling him. Not really a lie, unless you can call concealing the truth a lie. Lies of omission. Squall didn’t believe in them. Some things were meant to be hidden. But…this….whatever that Seifer had endured surpassed even those simple little lies that Squall could have overlooked. Someone had taken away a part of Seifer and had never given it back and Squall was willing to bet that Kiros knew more than he let on.
Looking down at Seifer, whose tears had since dried, kneeling brokenly at Squall’s feet, still clinging to him like his sanity depended on it, Squall swallowed past the lump in his throat. Yes, he loved him. So fucking what? He’d deny it to anyone who asked but he’d be damned if he’d deny it to himself any longer. And all because of the murderous rage that rushed through his veins crying for retribution. Someone had blackened Seifer’s soul, even more so than he’d done all by himself and Squall would seek revenge in his place. For he had a horrible feeling that Seifer had done his share of killing already. It was time to unburden Seifer’s damning conscience, and if he had to take a few lives to do it, then so be it. He was going to be the one to give Seifer back his life, and not in a handful of broken, jagged pieces.
Kiros would tell him what he wanted to know. And he wouldn’t have to ask more than once.
Squall tightened his fingers in Seifer’s hair once more, marveling at its silky texture when it looked so unmoving. It slid like silk through his fingers and he closed his eyes, savoring it. Why did no one ever tell him how much it hurt to love someone? Squall only hoped that spilling a little blood would appease the devil in him today. He was going to face Seifer’s demons, and he could only imagine how terrible it would be.
He stepped back slightly, releasing his hold on Seifer who looked up in surprise. Surprise because Squall was letting him go, or surprise because he’d held him so close in the first place, Squall didn’t know. He supposed it didn’t really matter since he didn’t plan on speaking about this again.
He turned slowly, almost as an afterthought, operating on autopilot now and bent to retrieve the two forgotten blades that lay in the grass. Almost symbolic in their abandonment, Squall shook his head. He always saw the hidden meaning, when no one else could.
"Get yourself together. I’ll take these in to Kiros." His distant tone wasn’t lost on Seifer and he didn’t raise his head in an attempt to meet Squall’s eyes. What could he say anyway? He’d humbled himself, disgraced himself, revealed the coward that lurked inside. The one he’d thought he’d hidden so well. Squall would never meet his eyes again. He might as well crawl back into a sewer somewhere, since it was what he seemed destined for.
Squall must have sensed what he was thinking because he paused near the conservatory’s door, the slight, sheathed blades hefted easily within his grasp.
"Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be back later." It was not a request.
Seifer acknowledged him with silence. Acquiesced with his lack of argument. Squall heard his agreement, unspoken as it was and he moved through the glass doors with as much grace as he could manage with Seifer Almasy’s tears still drying on his skin.
"Where you going with that look on your face, little lion?" Kiros’ light, superior tone wasn’t something Squall was in the mood for at the moment, if he was ever in the mood for it at all.
"Don’t call me that, Seagill." His annoyed tone was entirely different from the one he’d used at the table this morning. Kiros caught the subtle alteration immediately.
"Something wrong, Commander?" He asked, the teasing note gone from his voice.
Squall started to shake his head but instead paused and considered Kiros’ words.
"Yes. Something’s wrong." How to learn what he needed to know?
"Well are you going to tell me or should I start guessing?" Kiros’ voice was edged in irritation. Hyne, this boy was a real pain in the ass. Moody little bastard.
Squall scowled at him as he placed Kiros’ weapons back in their display case.
"I was getting to that." He glared when he finally turned around. Kiros raised an eyebrow.
"I’m waiting." He prompted, crossing his arms over his chest. He was so willowy that he could almost wrap his arms around himself and Squall noticed, not for the first time, just how pretty Kiros actually was. Shaking his head, annoyed with himself for getting distracted, he closed the distance between them until he stood close enough to see how dark Kiros’ eyes really were. They were the color of umber, so dark they were practically black with just enough warmth in them to make you wonder what secrets he had hidden behind them.
"What’s wrong with Seifer?" Squall asked with no preamble. Kiros grinned.
"What do you mean, ‘what’s wrong with Seifer’? He looks okay to me."
Kiros’ slightly teasing voice was only succeeding in angering Squall further. He knew damn good and well what Squall was talking about. He was toying with him, baiting him. Squall’s patience evaporated. He grabbed Kiros’ by the shirt and pulled hard. Kiros’ stumbled but caught himself just before he fell into Mr. Ice.
"Watch who you’re grabbing, little lion, you might lose a hand." Kiros warned in that silky tone of voice. Squall caught the warning, but was simply too angry to heed it. He didn’t release Kiros’ and he didn’t back off, he only held on tighter and brought Kiros’ closer to him. He could feel the taller man’s breath on his cheek.
"Something happened to Seifer and I want to know what it is. And I want you to tell me all about it." He growled softly as Kiros raised an eyebrow at him.
"What’s with the dramatics all of a sudden? Why don’t you just ask Seifer?" Kiros wanted to know as he extricated himself from Squall’s iron grip.
Squall let the other man go and ran a frustrated hand through his unruly tresses as he sighed aloud. The unknown was killing him. He never imagined Seifer’s secrets would bother him so much. He’d thought he could handle not knowing. But he knew now that he couldn’t, he was going to have to know. If he were going to help Seifer bury the past, he was going to have to know what the hell had been going on for the past few months.
"Because he’s on his knees crying in the garden, Kiros. And I don’t mean the pretty little tears that cling to your eyelashes before sliding down your cheek. I’m talking about the soul-racking sobs that only come from a man when he’s been completely broken down. Now tell me or don’t tell me but don’t play with me. I’ll find out if I have to kill to do it."
Squall’s stormy eyes had never sparked such fire, nor had his words ever held such venom. Kiros felt something inside him sigh in relief and it was in this way that he knew where Squall’s heart lie, finally. He deserved to know.
Kiros walked over to the window that overlooked the conservatory and he stood silently observing Seifer. The boy was still kneeling in the grass, his golden head bowed, hands pressed against the ground, most probably lost in a nightmare. Kiros shook his head. He ached for all that Seifer had lost and could lose again. He turned to face Squall, who was still fighting mad, and he sighed heavily.
"I’ll tell you what I can and the rest you’ll have to promise to leave alone, Seifer’s life could depend on it."
Squall’s brow furrowed. "I don’t see why…"
Kiros held a hand up. "Don’t argue with me boy, just listen to what I have to say and don’t ask questions that I can’t answer." He sounded angry. Squall nodded, not happy, but willing to take whatever he could get.
"Fine." He finally agreed.
Kiros turned his eyes away from Seifer, knowing he’d be unable to tell the story if he were looking at him during the recounting of it.
"It was about eight months ago, I think, that I was informed of his arrival."
"Who told you?" Squall interrupted. Kiros slid him a quelling glance.
"Let me finish and don’t say anything till I’m done. If you still have questions and I’m able to answer them, I will do so then, understood?"
Squall, nodded, more than a little miffed to be taken down in such a way.
"He had nowhere left to go, he’d been in many towns and finding no welcome in any of them, came here as a last resort. Just between you and me, I don’t know what he’d have done if he hadn’t found a place here."
He paused, moving over to rack on the wall that displayed his ornately designed scythes. Fingering the edge of the blade absently, he licked his lips, unsure of how much information to depart with. Seifer wouldn’t appreciate this betrayal of confidence, but Kiros felt he really had no choice. Squall needed to know what Seifer had been put through if he were ever going to understand what made him tick. And if he intended to save Seifer from himself, he needed to hear this. Appreciating Squall’s silence, he turned to face him, his expression not quite hostile, but not welcoming either.
"I won’t bore you with the details, but I will tell you that Seifer was drafted almost immediately by a very wicked overlord. His reputation preceded him, you see, and this particular group of people didn’t really care whether or not Seifer had been under a Sorceress’ influence at the time of his defection. They knew only what they’d heard of him and they were suitably impressed. I’m guessing that they’d planned on using him as hired muscle, knowing that no one would stand against him based simply on his reputation. Sort of like Billy the Kid, huh?" He attempted a smile. Squall frowned.
"Who?" He sounded annoyed.
Kiros closed his eyes. "Never mind, it’s not important."
Squall shifted his weight from one hip to the other, clearly not impressed with Kiros’ storytelling technique.
"Anyway, somehow, I don’t think Seb ever planned on letting Seifer go. He wanted him by his side, doing his dirty work for as long as he could keep him alive."
Squall lay a hand on Kiros’ sleeve, a strange light in his eyes.
"Dirty work?" He asked cautiously, ignoring his earlier promise not to interrupt.
Kiros nodded. "He was a hired killer, Squall. He’s killed more people than he can probably even count."
Squall shrugged, taking his hand away and resting it casually on his gunblade.
"We’ve all killed. How can we keep track of them all? Why would that affect him so much? He had to stay alive, didn’t he?"
Kiros eyed Squall carefully, a sly look on his face.
"How many have you killed Squall? Give me a number."
Squall turned his eyes away. "How can I possibly remember that? I’m a mercenary for Hyne’s sake. Don’t be ridiculous, Kiros."
Kiros moved to his side and grasped Squall’s chin firmly between his fingers. He turned Squall’s sullen gaze back to his own and held him fast.
"Don’t try it, prettyboy. You know exactly how many men you’ve killed and I’m willing to bet you can remember their family names, too."
Squall was silent for a moment, but his eyes cursed Kiros in several different languages before he pulled away from Kiros’ knowing hold and ground out, "One hundred and twenty seven. There, you happy?"
Kiros snickered. "No, little lion, I’m not happy that you’ve become such a dangerous weapon, but I needed to make a point, which is what I’ve just done. You can remember the men you’ve killed. Seifer cannot. And he didn’t limit his kills to only men. He’s killed women, he’s killed boys younger than him, he’s toppled empires, infiltrated other gangs and dismantled them from the ground up. Around here, people don’t tell their children tales about the boogey man, they tell them stories about the Sorceress’ Knight."
Squall closed his eyes. "Seifer." He breathed. Kiros nodded while he watched Squall grapple with the implications of what he’d just learned. The man who owned his heart was a murdering villain. And he was stuck – again.
"Why did he do it? He could have said no! He didn’t have to do it all again."
Squall looked as though his heart was breaking and Kiros hated to be the bearer of such information, but there were certain truths that needed to be told.
"No, he couldn’t have refused." Kiros told him quietly. "They would have executed him, no question, but only after days, perhaps weeks, of unspeakable torture."
Squall turned his disillusioned gaze on Kiros’, all traces of anger vanished.
"Why would they do that?" The thought was so unutterably foreign to Squall that he couldn’t bring himself to grasp the simple concept of true evil.
Kiros sighed. "Because they could. It’s really that simple. You’re no stranger to evil, Squall, you know that it exists purely for its own sake."
Squall felt as though he might slide to his knees much the same as Seifer had done only minutes before. And then the rage was back. Seifer had compromised his soul in order to save himself and no matter what he’d done, Squall couldn’t fault him for that. Survival above all else. As long as you lived to see the sun rise again, you weren’t cursed. He would make it right again, and he just might shed a little blood in the doing of it.
"Where are they?" He asked, deadly quiet and dangerously low. Kiros shook his head, began to deny him, to shield him until Squall stepped forward, graceful and sure, gunblade at the ready.
"You will tell me, Kiros. You know that I can find them on my own, and you know I will. Tell me."
Kiros closed his eyes, weighing his options. "Laguna would kill me…"
Squall shook his head. "Don’t bring him into this. This is about me and the fucking bastards who made Seifer break down right in front of me. They have to pay, Kiros. I demand it."
Kiros’ shoulders slumped and Squall knew he’d won.
"Fine, little lion, you win. But I will accompany you." It was not up for discussion.
Squall nodded. "Agreed."
Kiros pulled his Katal from the rack and turned to face the young Commander.
"Let’s go. And I’ll warn you, it could get messy."
Squall nodded tightly, his face drawn in determination. "I’m counting on it."
Kiros sighed. If they lived through this one, Laguna really was going to have a fit. A straight up, no-holds-barred, clear the room hissy fit. And Squall would finally get to see where his temper truly came from. Hyne help them all…
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