Disclaimer: All FF8 characters belong to some very lucky person who would not be me, both the poem and plot of ‘Once at the end' are mine, (I spent way too long on them too).

Warnings: Yaoi, Violence, Death, slightly Alternate Universe. And to you die-hard Rinoa fans out there: venture forth cautiously, just because I don't flame her outright doesn't mean you'll be happy with all of the dialog. Just keep a nice open mind.

Once At The End

By Star

Once this is all over
The final battle done
Will you be content to fall,
And let the darkness come?

Will your soul be troubled,
If no one stops to weep?
And will you long for nothing,
As your soul lies down to sleep?

The ghostly tune is playing,
A fate that will not bend.
I'll meet you all in hell below,
Once I reach the end . . .


Squall carefully looked the room over, besides the jumble of crates waiting for shipping along the north wall it was basically empty. Or at least it appeared to be. He was completely sure that Seifer had come through here. The surveillance cameras on the walls confirmed his suspicions, every one of them smoked or made loud popping sounds, followed by bursts of sparks.

And if Seifer had been here before, he was most likely here now. This was probably the most perfect place they would ever find to finish it. Three floors underground in a old shipping warehouse, it felt like something you would find in one of those stupid mysteries they kept in the garden library.

It didn't matter, as long as they were not interrupted.

Squall stepped silently inside, pulling the door closed behind him. Without moving his back from the door he clenched one hand on the knob, he had not drawn magic in months, but he might still have one or two fire spells left.

The familiar feeling, a tingling at the base of his spine, proved him right. The lock melted under his hand, fusing itself together into a twisted mass. It was the closest he could come to welding the door shut with the remains of magic he had left.

That done, Squall returned to scanning the room, it would be foolish to move from his position, and give Seifer a chance to attack him from behind. He should have located Seifer immediately, but there was no movement, and no sound to verify his quarry's position. Even when his eyes finally adjusted to the flickering light from the barely working emergency lights, there was no visible sign of Seifer.

Was he not here then? No he had to be here. There would be no alternate exit for him to use. Then, the crates? They were the only place in the room that Seifer could possibly hide, but the image of someone cowering behind a stack of crates would never fit the Seifer he knew.

It would be more in Seifer's character to have found a spot where he could jump Squall once he came close enough. Unfortunately, he couldn't exactly wait for Seifer to simply forgo his hiding place. This had to be settled before someone decided they needed this storage space for something.

As Squall stepped away from the door, he could hear his heart pounding in his ears. No matter that he was sure Seifer was in front of him, behind the crates, his instincts still made him feel as though it was a risk. He knew from experience that there was no outer sign of the conflict battle always seemed to raise within him. He could feel the adrenaline starting to throb in his veins, his heart trying to beat its way out of his chest as his body tensed itself for battle.

Each battle had the potential to be his last, especially with Seifer. Death seemed to hang over him constantly these days, like a ghoul, felt in the back of the mind, but never fully acknowledged. This was his last battle no matter who died, because once it was over with Seifer there would be no more battles worth fighting. Squall knew he had always been aware of this in the back of his mind, but it was an odd feeling to be fully aware of it. Everything had always begun and ended with Seifer, that would make this the real ending. Not Ultimecia's defeat, but this, this was what counted.

Squall paused, looking for the safest way to approach the stack of crates. Sidestepping until his shoulder touched the far wall, Squall moved silently forward to see if there was any sort of space behind them.

As soon as he reached the corner of the room the shifting sounds started. Squall whirled to face the muffled sounds coming from the space between two crates above him. An instant later Seifer appeared, stepping free from the shadows. He pushed himself from between the two crates, landing with a faint thud.

For an instant the lack of decent light let Squall assume Seifer looked the way he always had, but a real look showed Squall changes he would never have believed could come over Seifer. The trench coat Seifer had always worn was now ripped and tattered, encrusted with dried blood and dirt. His eyes seemed sunken in, his haggard expression gave the impression that he hadn't slept for the entire time Squall had been tracking him. Gone was the dominator, the tormenter, the rival Squall had taught himself to hate over the years.

Seifer moved forward, his bloodshot eyes locked on Squall's. Almost as thought Seifer could stare into his brain, as though he could touch a nerve and bring each thought and emotion to the surface. Squall took the few steps back to the wall, unnerved, as he instinctively attempted to escape from Seifer's analyzing gaze.

Squall clenched his hand around the handle of his gunblade, his arm tensed to draw. Seifer moved closer, until they couldn't be more then a few inches apart, but still made no move to draw a weapon.

Time lost its relevance as they stood there, Squall wasn't even sure if he was still breathing, his chest was so tight he didn't think he could. Then Seifer moved again, and Squall felt a jolt go through him as if he had been hit by a thundagra. Seifer's body was pressed against his, so close that he could feel the slight rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. Squall's grip tightened on the handle of his gunblade as his muscles locked.

Seifer murmured something low and indistinct, his hand guiding Squall's away from his gunblade. Squall closed his eyes against Seifer's gaze as he tried to concentrate on his breathing. Seifer's other hand brushed his jaw as it moved to cup the back of his head. Even behind his closed eyes, Squall felt he could see Seifer's face, so close he was breathing in the air that Seifer exhaled. As though he could taste Seifer's breath.

Squall's heart was beating so hard he was sure Seifer could feel it. He had never been this close to Seifer, to anyone, it unnerved him just as much as Seifer's searching gaze. What the hell was Seifer playing at anyway?

"What do you think you're doing?"

"Why don't you open your eyes and see?" Seifer's tone was faintly amused, as though Squall was the one who was acting strangely. After a moment he continued, "What do you think you're doing, following me around the world? I didn't ask for a new shadow."

Squall bristled at Seifer's words, what right did he have? Pretending this battle could go unfinished, Even to the point of trying to outrun fate. He opened his mouth, lost whatever he had planned to say, opened his eyes, and immediately wished he hadn't.

Seifer was watching him, his face possibly less then two inches from Squall's. His eyes were half lidded and his lips slightly parted. Seifer looked positively sultry. He tilted his face closer, so that Squall could feel Seifer's lips move against his as he spoke, his voice low now, seductive and intense "You don't know how delicious you looked just now."

Squall jerked back as Seifer's mouth closed over his. He was drowning, choking, Seifer's tongue pushed inside his mouth, his fingers twisting in his hair. Squall's eyes went wide, watching Seifer watching him as his tongue slowly explored Squall's mouth.

Just as Squall was sure he would suffocate, smothered by the kiss, Seifer pulled back. A smirk colored his features, "What's wrong? Don't tell me you've never been kissed before?"

Squall gave Seifer his best glare although he could feel his face growing hot. Seifer tightened his fingers in Squall's hair, forcing his head back, "You've really never been kissed by anyone? Not even Rinoa?"

"None of your business."

Seifer's tongue slid down his neck, "Oh, but it is my business," he placed a kiss on Squall's collarbone, "I'd have to kill her on principle," his words were emphasized by a sharp nip. Squall shook his head, though whether to clear it or to deny what Seifer had said he wasn't sure. He could feel Seifer sucking on his neck, why the hell was he doing that? Why was he letting him do that? Why was he just standing here staring at the ceiling and clinging to the front of Seifer's trench coat like this was supposed to be happening?

"Stop that. Stop it now!" Squall's voice sounded horse and desperate to his own ears.

Seifer pulled back so he could look straight at Squall, massaging his thumb over the part of Squall's neck he had just been sucking, "Why don't you stop me? You could . . . if you wanted to."

Squall clenched his jaw, twisting Seifer's coat in his hands. Seifer leaned closer and slid his tongue over Squall's lips. Then he kissed him again, tender and slow this time, slowly coaxing his jaw to relax.

"Consider this," Seifer whispered, cupping Squall's chin in his hand, "Would you follow Rinoa halfway across the world to settle a feud like this?" his thumb caressed Squall's cheek, "Would you ever allow her to touch you like this?"

Squall turned his face away from Seifer's for a moment, it was true, all this time he had thought of nothing but tracking down Seifer. He had never put so much of himself into anything involving Rinoa. His lack of dedication couldn't really mean that much though, could it? He was expected to love her. The others would never believe he could feel any other way. But, he had never really wanted her this close to him, he'd even taken to avoiding being anywhere near her whenever possible lately. It was different being near Seifer, once he had squashed the initial shock of being kissed, it was almost . . . pleasant.

But somehow, all the problems he had found being with Rinoa didn't really seem to matter anymore. Not because they went against the mainstream, but because Rinoa had faded from importance in the weight of the moment. Looking up at Seifer with new eyes, he found himself wanting to touch Seifer, suddenly leaning in to press his lips over Seifer's before he had given himself time to think about it. It just felt so natural. Seifer responded quickly, coaxing Squall's tongue into his mouth, pulling him so close his back left the wall.

Squall gave himself up to the feeling of Seifer's tongue sliding against his, his world becoming a hot dark rush as his eyes drifted closed. His senses were in ecstasy, all he could perceive was Seifer, the taste, the feel of him. The low moan Seifer made into his mouth, the smell of gunpowder and oil that lingered around him. The image of Seifer that his mind still projected behind his closed eyes. By the time they finally separated for air he felt dizzy and drunk with sensation.

Seifer's arms tightened around him as they came together again. Squall wormed his hands inside Seifer's coat, running them over his chest. It seemed as though their bodies had been fused together, mouths barely parting long enough to gasp for breath, hands caressing and exploring in spite of clothing. Tongues sliding against each other as the rest of the word became vague and unreal. Until it finally ceased to exist altogether. Until somehow only they mattered. Only the fact that they were together, shielded inside this single perfect moment.

Squall felt a chill as Seifer suddenly stepped away, he stood without opening his eyes. His body still tingled from the sensations as reality came rushing back with the cold. His mind reeled, it was as if he had just fallen out of a dream, it was a struggle to completely grasp his old reality again. Was this really what he felt? Even if he didn't love Rinoa that didn't mean he had to love Seifer, did it? But he did, even if he didn't have to. Squall could be even more sure of that then of the fact that he no longer loved Rinoa, that perhaps he never truly had at all. It wasn't that useless sort of floaty, sappy love poets and storytellers delighted in. It was something powerful and warm and . . . comfortable. Something he could hug to himself forever, an emotion so completely pure and intense and perfect that there was nothing else that it could possibly be.

"Squall," Squall's heart tightened painfully at the sad ring in Seifer's voice, "Squall, look at me." Squall felt Seifer's hand under his chin, tilting his head upwards slightly. "Open your eyes," reluctantly Squall complied. Why did Seifer look so sad? Almost as though he expected to lose something very dear to him.

"Tell me what you want Squall," Squall would have looked away if he could have, what he _wanted_ had nothing to do with this, not for long now anyway. It was what he had come to do, what he was expected to do now that he was here, that mattered to the rest of the world. The battle he could not hope to escape, to reject. He loved Seifer, knew he loved him with every fiber of his soul. But to finish what he had sworn to do, to end the war that had threatened so much, he would still have to fight him.

"Do you still want to fight me? Kill me? Even knowing what you know now, will you finish what you came for?" Squall forced himself to nod, "Why?"

"Because then this war between us can be over," even as the words left his mouth Squall know they were all lies, there was nothing between them that needed destroying, it was the rest of the world that was clinging to the conflict now.

"And you still want everything to end like this? I tried to give you an alternative," Squall wanted to cling to Seifer. To kiss him again and promise him his love forever and for always, but Seifer shook his head and moved away, effectively ending the conversation.

He watched silently as Seifer moved to the uncluttered part of the room and drew his gunblade. Wondering why Seifer sound like that, so sad, like the world was crawling to an end as they stood there. Squall clamped down on the newfound emotions that told him to call this off. Fate was fate, he couldn't run from the final battle any more then Seifer could, though he would have given anything to do so.

Squall moved to take his place across from Seifer, drawing his own gunblade as he did so. His senses stretched out by reflex, taking in even the smallest thing that might become a factor in the coming battle.

Seifer took a step back, swinging his gunblade up, he charged forward. Squall let his mind slip and his instincts take over, then he was moving, bringing up his blade to meet Seifer's, the final battle had begun.

Squall let his instincts control him, blocking Seifer's blows without stopping to consider that this was the man he had been kissing only moments ago. He shut his brain down as he struck back, afraid he might brake down if he let himself consider the pain he would cause.

Squall sensed rather then saw the blow coming from above and reached up with his bare hand. He cried out as the blade cut his hand down to the bone, but this was the opening he needed. Clamping down on the pain in his hand Squall twisted, bringing his own gunblade up. He drove it into Seifer's chest, forcing it between his ribs . . . and pulled the trigger.

Pushing himself up, Squall stared numbly at the gunblade in his hands. Not his blade, but Seifer's, and tainted with his own blood. That blow, it must have wounded him beyond any possible recovery, if not killed him outright. Shouldn't he be satisfied, it could be over now, couldn't it? No, Squall knew as the adrenaline drained from his system, but it was almost over now. By killing Seifer he had killed himself, if not in body, then at least in soul. It hadn't truly begun with Seifer. It had begun with both of them together. And so with both of their deaths, was how it would have to end.

Squall moved himself so that he was kneeling next to Seifer, he was still alive, but he was struggling just to breathe, he wasn't going to last very long. Squall touched Seifer's face, his heart aching, "Seifer," he whispered, his fingers trailing over Seifer's cheek, "now that I've had you, I'll never be complete again without you." Seifer's eyes opened, staring back at him. The same look haunted them as before, the look of hopelessness and grief.

"Squall, don't," Seifer tried to move, his hand twitching toward Squall, "Don't do it."

Squall shook his head, he understood now. He understood where he had been wrong before. What Seifer had been dreading, he couldn't turn away from his fate now. What was the use in living an empty life anyway? Why not join Seifer, in heaven or in hell, the location didn't really matter, as long as he was sure of the comrade.

"I have too."

"Don't . . ."

Squall turned Seifer's gunblade toward himself, and, squeezing his eyes closed, he pulled the blade forward. The sick feeling as the blade sliced deep inside him made him fall to his knees in pain. A hellish jolt tore through him as the gun went off. The thing that hurt him most, though, was Seifer's cry.

Squall blinked his eyes open, he ached. He dimly realized he was lying on the floor. The agony in his stomach reminded him just how he had gotten there. He could hear someone breathing harshly, himself or . . . He turned his head enough to meet Seifer's eyes, his lips were moving but he couldn't seem to speak, tears streaked his face.

"Seifer," Squall heard himself whisper, Seifer never cried, ever. Squall forced himself to move, feeling Seifer's gunblade shift inside his as he did. He managed to take Seifer's hand in his, his eyes never leaving Seifer's face, "I'm so sorry, I had to."

Squall pulled himself closer, the gunblade slid even farther into him but he couldn't make himself care, he was going to die anyway, so a little move pain didn't matter. Squall pushed himself along the floor until he was face to face with Seifer, leaning forward just a little more, Squall let his lips brush Seifer's.

Seifer's squeezed his eyes shut, "Squall . . ."

"Shhhhh . . . " Squall couldn't stand that pained sound in Seifer's voice, his heart ached to hear it. He tucked Seifer's head against his neck, his injured hand stroking Seifer's hair. He pressed gentle kisses onto Seifer's face and neck. It was over now. Now they could just stay like this forever. Squall struggled to hold in his tears, everything was over. Their love was over before it had even begun.

Seifer tried to smile, he looked as though it pained him, as though he had forgotten how to smile for real, instead of his usual smirk, "Only you Squall . . . " his fingers traced Squall's lips, "I could only love you."

Squall cradled Seifer's head against his shoulder. Blood from his hand was staining Seifer's hair and running down his neck. The floor under them was sticky with a quickly spreading puddle of blood. A sick feeling settling in his heart as Seifer's breathing finally calmed, and then stopped altogether. Squall let out a dry sob, clutching Seifer's body close as though he could somehow force Seifer to continue living. What happened to happily ever after? What happened to love conquers all? It was finally over, nothing was left between them that could taint and ruin the love they both knew they shared. But it could never be that simple.

"Seifer," Squall's throat was tight with grief, his voice a strained whisper, "Sei . . . fer . . ." He could feel his own life draining away. There was no time for more regrets, no time to truly mourn. Just barely time for a few tears as he squeezed his own eyes shut, and his body slowly went numb.





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