Chapter 5 - Syunikiss

<hold on... you're going to be okay>

By YuriNigasa

A thin haze of dirt covered Squall's car by the time they arrived at Seifer's small home. The last mile to the house hadn't been paved with anything other than rocks and dirt. As they stepped out of the car, Squall could smell the salt on the air and his mind awoke a half image of his thoughts the night before. He shook his head imperceptibly and pushed the traitorous images down. The house was small, and there were signs of continuous repair everywhere. The stucco was painted a pale ecru with a rust red tile roof and matching trim around the windows. Tenacious low growing shrubs thrived in the sandy soil and there were cactus plants adding texture and shape around the yard. Seifer pulled a ring of keys from his pocket and unlocked the front door, holding open the screen door for Squall to catch.

The house was as unassuming inside as out. One of the things that surprised Squall most, however, were the shelves of books that lined the living room. Seifer had never been much of a reader before, Squall noted. He had always preferred action to thought. Squall could see parts of the kitchen and hallway from where he stood. Breakfast dishes were still on the table and there was a book sitting by the plate. Squall waited in the living room while Seifer wandered off to put his parcels away.

Squall wondered what the bookshelves held, and decided to take some time to look. Walking over he noticed there didn't appear to be an order, but the books had all obviously read. There were no clean spines or pristine pages. These weren't books that had been merely read - they had been devoured. Squall discovered suspense and mystery books, action, graphic novels, fantasy, ancient history... There seemed to be a little of everything. As his eyes scanned the shelves he saw a section near the floor that appeared entirely untouched. Curious, Squall bent to see what they were. His breath stopped momentarily as he saw the entire section dealt with the Ultimecia incident. There were books on himself, the sorceresses, Seifer, the Gardens, Matron...

"I never could bring myself to read them."

Squall's eyes darted up to meet Seifer's. Seifer's expression was pained, and for a moment Squall swore that underneath all the masks Seifer had ever worn, Squall could see the abandoned child he had been. They had all been abandoned. They had all dealt with it differently.

Seifer's voice cracked a bit, "I can't forget what happened."

Squall stared, completely at a loss. "It wasn't..."

"My fault? It was. I could have ended it in Timber."

"Nobody could have known what she planned, Seifer."

"Squall. There are no excuses. Don't justify the hell I put everyone through. Don't dismiss that... you have no right." Seifer's voice grew cold and his eyes darkened. The old mask of contempt slipped down and cast his features in arrogance.

Squall was off-balance. He didn't know what to say to Seifer. So he fell into the old, familiar attitude. "Whatever," he spat.

Seifer glared. What amicable feelings the afternoon had built were gone instantaneously. A few hours of pleasant interaction just couldn't erase the years of unresolved bitterness. The palpable silence was broken by Seifer's harsh laughter. "You did what you had to. Save the world! How fucking noble. Would you still have done it if they quit signing your paychecks? It's so easy to pick a side when you're paid to discern right from wrong by the amount of money they throw at you, isn't it?"

Squall's posture straightened and he went on the defensive. He'd questioned the nature of his involvement in SeeD before, too many times to count. But suddenly Squall wasn't the rational man he could have sworn he'd become. Instead he was trapped once again in the body of a teenager, emotions raging, facing his rival outside the Garden. He wasn't going to concede points, no matter how right his opponent may be. "Nobody had to pay you to pick a side Seifer. All they had to do was stroke your ego. In your arrogance you were the easiest target for a lapdog. Praise you, give you the illusion of power to cover your own worthlessness, and you'd do anything!"

"Is that how you've justified it all these years Leonhart? Painting me as some poor, misguided, tragic figure? 'Pity poor Seifer,'" he mocked. "'He didn't know what he was doing, it was all because he wanted approval, blah blah blah.' How trite. How very little you know. You think I did it to spite you and your little fucking clique? To get revenge on Rinoa, or you, or the whole of that pathetic little school? I would honestly say your ego is worse than mine ever was, if you think I would take on the whole world just to get even with you."

"Then why?" Squall was on the verge of losing his frigid composure. "Make me understand! Tell me why!" Squall demanded. Even after so many years, they still drew from each other. Eliciting reactions, gauging response, formulating, planning, instinctive now, even after so long apart.

"What makes you think that even if I told you, you would ever understand? What makes you think that I want you to understand? I don't need this. Take your psychotherapy and your pity and your need to do whatever the hell it is you're trying to do and get out!" Seifer's voice had grown quiet in rage.

Squall stood, stunned. Taking a deep breath, he walked past Seifer and headed toward the door. Seifer's voice followed him in one last parting barb, "You can't save what's lost, Leonhart, when you can't even save yourself."

In a blur of motion, Squall turned, rage burning in his eyes. Acting purely on instinct, he landed a right hook to Seifer's jaw. "So is that why you cower here? Why you hide?" Squall's voice was louder than Seifer could ever remember.

Recovering, Seifer lunged for Squall. "You should learn when to leave well enough alone Squall!" Seifer grabbed him and shoved roughly as Squall lost his footing, tumbling backward and defenseless. Scrambling up, he launched himself at Seifer's legs, throwing him off balance as Seifer mercilessly punched, landing solid blows against Squall's body. Squall pushed off against Seifer as he swept his leg behind Seifer's and tried to trip him as he landed a blow to Seifer's stomach. Breathing heavily, Seifer managed to block Squall's leg and heaved it aside.

"You haven't had enough yet, have you Seifer?"

Squall's taunt burned in Seifer's ears. "I'll show you enough." Seifer poured all the years of emotion he'd locked away into his swings, jabs, and kicks. It began evenly matched but after several minutes, Squall was showing signs of wear. Seifer's rage, long held in check, flowed freely.

"Give it up, Squall. Just quit fighting." Seifer growled.

"No, Almasy. You... haven't... had... enough!" Squall swung and connected with Seifer's already bruised ribs.

Frustrated and confused, Seifer's next blow hit like a hammer across Squall's temple and he went flying back into a shelf, cracking it in half as everything on it fell, glass breaking and items scattering across the floor.

"You stupid little fuck!" Seifer screamed. "Stay down!"

Squall struggled to right himself, hands finding shards of glass as blood poured freely from his wounds. He couldn't give up. Turning his head toward the sound of Seifer's voice, his vision blurred from sweat and the shock of Seifer's hit, he gazed up with hazy, unfocused eyes.

"No... Seifer. You haven't had enough," he gasped.

A sick realization flooded Seifer's mind as he stared down at Squall's broken body. He finally understood what Squall meant and he was paralyzed with fear. What had he done? Seifer dropped to the floor, arms wrapped around his chest, bits of glass digging into his knees, huddling like a scared child. Squall didn't submit because of his pride. Squall kept fighting because Seifer hadn't had enough yet. Because Seifer was the one who couldn't let go.

"Oh fuck... Squall," Seifer croaked, "What the fuck did I do?" Squall was still trying to move toward Seifer. "Stay there you stubborn ass." Seifer commanded quietly. Seifer crawled toward Squall, ignoring the pain and blood. He reached Squall's side and reached out for him hesitantly, for once his masks nowhere to be seen. Squall's hand grasped Seifer's weakly and he leaned toward Seifer. Tears slipped down Seifer's cheeks.

"Squall... help me," Seifer pleaded softly.

Squall's eyes opened slightly and he looked at Seifer. "All you had to do was ask."

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