Chapter Sixteen - The Greatest View
I’m watching you watch over me
And I’ve got…the greatest view from here
Even after months of being unable to seek the comfort and familiarity of the sea, the briny scent was something his heart remembered well. Lifting his face to the sun, his eyes closed as he breathed the sea air into his lungs, Seifer took notice of no one as he immersed himself in the unmistakable feeling of freedom.
Squall’s expression was much the same as it always was, but his heart was light and he was as close to carefree as he’d been in years despite what lay ahead for the lot of them. Laguna and Kiros walked ahead, looking back every so often to make sure the younger men were following along. Kiros was attentive, observant, completely focused on Laguna and on their surroundings, alert, as always, to the slightest hint of danger.
Seifer shouldered the bag that he and Squall shared. The small travel bag that contained the few necessities Laguna insisted they would need. Squall had taken the bag from his father, nodding and smiling, and as soon as Seifer had closed the door behind the President, Squall had set about removing over half the bag’s contents.
“Sunscreen?” He’d looked up at Seifer, clearly confused as to why Laguna imagined they might take time out to sunbathe.
Seifer had paused, looking away from mirror as he slicked his hair back, and winked at Squall. “Doubles as a lube.” Squall had flushed a dull red and given Seifer ‘the look’, choosing to end the conversation on that note. Seifer had noticed, however, that the sunscreen had somehow managed to make the final cut. It had taken all the restraint he possessed not to comment on that.
And now, Squall walked beside him, his purposeful stride unknowingly confident, made stronger again with his lover by his side.
“I’ve missed the sea.” He told Squall, favoring him with a private, easy smile. Squall kept his eyes trained on the back of his father and Kiros, the smile in his eyes hidden behind the sunglasses he wore.
“I’m sure you didn’t miss the smell of the docks, though, did you?”
Seifer chuckled, his gaze landing on a scruffy looking man who chose that particular moment to lean over the rope and barf up his breakfast, which had most likely consisted of at least half a bottle of Wild Turkey.
“It’s nice to be see normal sights again, actually.” He turned his head away from the barrage of smells that assaulted him from a small fish market right off the docks. “No matter how disgusting they are.”
Squall grinned, about to comment, when a small, terrified mewling sound wafted toward him on the breeze. He glanced over, only mildly interested at first before he heard a man’s voice, angry and threatening, and then the muffled sounds of a child crying. That got his attention. He stopped walking and stood, hipshot, his head angled slightly and Seifer was immediately riveted. “What is it?”
Squall took a tentative step toward the pile of boxes and then glanced back at Seifer. “You didn’t hear that?”
Seifer shrugged. “What, that cat?”
Kato sauntered up behind him then, his fingers curled into claws and he scratched at Seifer’s back, making little hissing sounds.
Seifer elbowed him in annoyance, his ears strained for any hint as to what may have drawn Squall’s attention.
“No. The child.” He answered, oblivious to Kato’s typical lack of solemnity. He headed toward the sounds, hand on his gunblade, not really sure of the reason behind his sudden apprehension, only knowing that his instincts had never led him astray. He didn’t have to look back to see if Seifer followed. He already knew that he would.
He heard the sound of wood splintering, followed by a small whimper. Squall drew nearer to see the source of the crying. A young girl, maybe thirteen years old or so, cowered against a large wooden crate, her face obscured by a cloud of pale, tangled hair. Her shoulders shook with silent sobs and she clutched a tiny kitten to her chest, its pitiful mewling sure to give her away before her sobbing did. A man lumbered into Squall’s line of vision then, big and unkempt, his heavily lined faced shiny with sweat and creased with annoyance.
“Ya come out of there, ya little bastard! And ya hand over that damned cat!”
The girl shook her head wildly, her hair spreading over her shoulders, streaked with dirt and wet with her own tears.
“No…please…it’s just a baby, please don’t hurt it.” Her voice was soft and faint with fear, but surprisingly low for a girl.
Her assailant only laughed and the sound turned Squall’s stomach. The ugly bastard was taking enormous pleasure in the child’s fear. There was nothing Squall detested more than a bully. It brought the frightened child in himself back to life. He hated that.
“What I’m gonna do to that nasty ol’ animal aint nothin’ compared t’what I’ma do to you when I git my hands on ya iffen you don’t get out here right now.”
The girl turned then, trying to push aside the heavy crate to create a small enough space for the kitten to escape through. Not fast enough, though, as the man reached over and grabbed her by the back of her hair, pulling her head back and exposing her long, pale throat. She raised wide violet eyes to Squall’s, who bent quickly to retrieve the terrified kitten. It was a baby. So tiny that it’s eyes were as yet unopened. The girl stared unblinkingly at Squall, resignation dull in her eyes even as tears streaked down her cheeks and Squall’s other hand clenched, the leather tightening around his fingers, his teeth ground together in anger. He took a step forward only to be halted by Seifer’s hand on his arm.
“No. You stay here.”
Squall nodded, hanging back and watching Seifer stride forward, hands clenched at his sides. Squall knew that tone, he knew that stride. Seifer would handle it.
Kato climbed onto one of the crates and watched, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to jump in and kick a little ass.
The man looked up as Seifer approached, eyes immediately alight with recognition as he watched the Sorceress’ knight draw near. A myriad of emotions played over his face and he let the girl slide to the floor as he began to back away. Seifer never faltered, stepping over the girl as his fingers curled around the man’s collar, lifting him slightly.
“You like picking on little girls, asshole?” He asked conversationally. The man shook his head, sweating freely now as he glanced around wildly, looking for any avenue of escape. “No…I…” He stammered, and Seifer tightened his grip, his fingers tight against the man’s throat.
Kato slinked up behind Seifer, dagger drawn, his lips turned up in a welcome smile, eyes bright with excitement. He laid his blade beneath the man’s ear and looked up at Seifer, eager with bloodlust.
“Let me have him, Seifer. I’ll take him somewhere quiet.” He was practically purring as he pressed his body to Seifer’s, his eyes entreating.
Squall stood, transfixed for a moment as he watched them together. And Kiros’ words came back to him, reminding him that Seifer could kill without remorse and he knew without a doubt that Kato had helped him do it. He seemed to relish the thought of killing the man, and while Squall couldn’t fault him as he was of a similar mind, he would find no pleasure in torturing him, watching him die slowly.
The girl coughed then, and tried to gain her feet, feeling along the wooden planks for something to grasp onto. The kitten cradled against his chest, Squall knelt before her, offering her his hand. She grabbed his hand, uncertainty written in her hauntingly beautiful eyes and Squall smiled at her, that sweet disarming smile that not many people ever saw.
“Come on, I won’t hurt you.” He promised her and when she drew nearer, he looked up to see Seifer smash his fist into the man’s face, his voice low and angry. Squall couldn’t make out his words but didn’t miss the intensity of his glare. Kato was speaking to him, his words muffled by the wind and Squall looked down again as the girl moved into his arms, reaching for her kitten with a faint whisper. “…please.”
When next he looked up, Seifer had dropped the man, who fell heavily against the stacked crates, blubbering like the coward that he was. Seifer turned away, shaking his head in disgust. He locked eyes with Squall as he made his way back toward him, his jade stare still burning with barely restrained fury. Squall heard the man scream then, a thin, shrill sound that didn’t quite last an entire breath. Squall supposed he should feel some guilt for the little thrill of satisfaction that such a sound wrought in him but when he looked down at the frightened little thing beside him, he couldn’t. Seifer paused by his side, going down on one knee before the girl, who cowered at the very sight of him.
“No…” She whispered and began crawling backward, away from Seifer, her pants pulling tight in her haste. And that’s when Squall realized that she wasn’t a she. She was a boy. A very pretty, fragile, terrified boy. One who knew Seifer on sight. He backed away further until he bumped right against Kato’s legs. Hhe looked up, watched him lick the blood from the point of his dagger. Kato grinned and licked his bottom lip.
“Hey there, beautiful.” He purred. The boy blinked and looked around at the three of them. And then he fainted.
“I think he’s waking up.” Laguna told Kiros with a sweet, almost excited smile. Kiros pushed away from where he’d been leaning against the wall and made his way to Laguna’s bed. The little blonde was stirring. He made small, whimpering noises that put Kiros immediately in mind of a restless kitten. His hair was tangled and his face streaked with dirt, his long lashes nothing more than smudges beneath his eyes.
“He’s going to need a bath.” Kiros said, moving closer to Laguna and turning his head to watch the expression on his friend’s face. He had that familiar sappy look firmly in place. Laguna had found another stray, Hyne help them all.
The boy stirred again, licked his pale lips as he scrubbed at his eyes.
“Cinder?” He murmured as he struggled to sit upright. Laguna smoothed the boy’s hair back and smiled down at him.
“You’re all right now, little one. Don’t be afraid.” The boy blinked up at him, shrinking back against the blankets instinctively. Laguna sat down beside him, tugging the blankets up to allow the boy to feel more protected. He hadn’t moved a muscle since he’d first begun to stir.
Kiros stood at Luguna’s back, peering down at the little blonde over Laguna’s shoulder.
“What’s your name?” He asked, keeping his voice as soft and unassuming as possible.
The boy looked around the room, his eyes darting around like a cornered rabbit might before settling his attention back on Kiros and Laguna as though he were afraid to look away too long in case they decided to attack him.
“L-Liric, sir.” He licked his lips again and spoke timidly, “Where is Cinder, please, where is she?”
His voice was barely audible with a sweet, husky timbre. Laguna was positively enchanted.
“Kiros, where is Squall? Would you go get him?”
Kiros nodded, glancing once more at the boy. “He’s outside, I’ll send him in.”
Laguna nodded absently and patted Liric’s hand. “Squall is taking care of your kitten, sweeting, she’s fine, I promise.”
Liric smiled then, so awkward and strained that Laguna wondered how long it had been since the boy had last smiled.
“Don’t be afraid. We’ll take care of you.” He promised. “When you’re ready to get up, we’ll draw you a bath and get you some clean clothes.”
Liric glanced up timidly. “I have nothing to offer you, sir, in exchange for your kindness.”
Laguna blinked, and felt all that was protective in him sit up and clamber for recognition.
“Oh, honey, you don’t have to give us anything. Just let us help you, that’s all we want.”
Liric sniffled faintly and visibly struggled not to cry. “But…why?”
Squall entered the room to hear the boy’s small, bewildered voice and he gave thanks, briefly, that Laguna had someone more needy to dote on.
Seifer followed Squall into the room, holding the sleeping kitten in the curve of his arm. It was curled into a small, furry ball, purring softly in a kitten’s typical fashion, no rhythm whatsoever. Liric sat up in the bed; eyes alight when he saw his kitten.
“Cinder!” He whispered, and he glanced at Seifer, remembering his quick violence on the docks. He shrank back a little.
Seifer grinned at him and, unlike Laguna, sauntered right over to the bed with no hesitation.
“She bit me earlier, kid. You owe me.”
Liric’s lower lip began to tremble and his eyes got impossibly wide.
Laguna elbowed Seifer and gave him the Loire glare of death.
“Stop scaring him and give him his kitten.”
Seifer looked back at Squall, the look on his face enough to bring a slight smile to Squall’s lips. He nodded toward the bed. “Give him his cat, Seifer.”
Seifer frowned, feeling incredibly unappreciated as Squall amused himself at his expense.
But as he knelt over the bed and handed Liric the sleeping kitten, Squall’s smile faded and he remembered instead, how Seifer had swept the unconscious boy up into his arms and held him protectively as he’d carried him toward the ship.
Seifer glanced back, over his shoulder, in time to catch the soft, reflective look in Squall’s eyes. He smiled and for a moment, no one else existed.
Laguna cleared his throat, watching carefully as Liric snuggled the little gray ball of fur against his cheek.
“See? Your Cinder is just fine.”
Squall took a step toward the bed, glancing up at Seifer as he did so.
“You’re safe with us.”
Liric blinked, eyes wide and questioning, though he spoke not a word. His question, however silent, was recognizable enough, however, and he couldn’t hide the fear in his eyes.
Safe with the Sorceress’ Knight?
But as he stroked his kitten, felt the contented rumble of her purr; he smiled, raising his eyes to Seifer’s.
“Thank you…Sir Almasy.”
No one spoke for a moment, and as Seifer reached for Squall’s hand, Kato came tearing into the room, eyes bright with excitement.
“Yeefrickin’ha! They’re about to hold a wet t-shirt contest on the main deck!”
Kiros closed his eyes…and sighed.
I realize that this isn’t much in the way of the story, but hey, I needed to bridge somewhere, and this was it. Perhaps it will get me back on track, even though I know precisely where this story is going. Feedback is always welcome!
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