Chapter 7 - De Memoire
Rows of delicately painted figurines lined the shelves in Seifer's work room. The largest was about eight inches high and was a detailed replica of Shiva. Most of the figures were no more than an inch and a half high. There were any number of fantastical lords in full armor armed with gunblades and seductive ladies in flowing skirts with perfectly coifed hair. Seifer was hunched over his workbench, an impossibly small sable paintbrush in his right hand. In his left hand he held a small creature attached to a thin rod. Turning the figure carefully he added highlights to the scales, eyes, and fangs. Rotating the figure once again he checked the overall progress. Satisfied, he placed the brush in a water filled cup and set the rod and figure into a box with holes cut in the lid for support. Reaching for the next figure, he paused in mid-reach. He could hear faint stirring noises from the living room. Squall. He got up and walked out just in time to see Squall struggling to get up.
"Hold it, hold it," Seifer called. He placed one arm gently around Squall's waist, and took his forearm with his free hand. Setting his shoulder under Squall's arm for support, he helped him up, gritting his teeth when Squall's full weight nearly made Seifer collapse.
"Bathroom." Squall grunted.
"Yes, sir," replied Seifer.
Seifer left Squall in the bathroom and went to his room to grab some sweatpants and a shirt. They'd be a bit too big for Squall, but they'd allow him to maintain his dignity. He knocked on the bathroom door and opened it enough to lay the clothes on the sink. "You can use those if you want and I'll wash up your clothes. Just leave them in the bathroom and I'll get it. Just yell when you're ready to lie back down."
Seifer was so confused. He was going to have to face Squall today, like it or not. How could he though? Just knowing what he'd done to him yesterday made him sick. Why did he constantly push at Squall? Well, he knew why... but not why. Yet every single time Seifer pushed, Squall came back. Seifer had alienated everyone. Correction. Everyone but Squall. Well maybe this time he'd pushed too far. He almost hoped he had. Misery was so much easier to deal with, so much more familiar.
Squall's call brought his contemplation to an end. Seifer opened the bathroom door and helped Squall stand again. They made their way back to the living room and Seifer propped Squall up on the pillows. "Hungry?" Seifer asked.
"Sit." Squall pointed to the chair.
"You need to..." Seifer tried to change the subject.
"Later. Sit." Squall's tone of voice, though weak, quelled any thought of rebellion in Seifer.
Seifer numbly made his way to the chair, feeling like a chastised child. Sickening tendrils of dread worked their way through his chest until he thought he was going to be ill. "Squall," he began haltingly. Tears formed in Seifer's eyes and he blinked rapidly to remove them. He found he couldn't raise his gaze to meet Squall's.
"What? What do you want me to say? I don't have words for it, don't you understand?" Seifer's voice was haunted.
"I just... I want to understand."
"How can I make you understand? I don't even know my own mind. Do you have any idea what that's like? For your own mind to be something foreign? Squall, I can't let go, I can't forget. Whatever I was, I don't know what I am now."
"What about when we were kids? What do you remember?"
"I don't remember much. Bits and pieces mostly. Matron tucking me in, teasing Zell, I must have been such a bully. Look how I turned out." He gestured helplessly.
"I remember. We were all so small. So abandoned. I remember us being separated more than anything. I remember Sis... I didn't remember for the longest time. I don't know how much of it was actually a side effect and how much of it was simply the fact that I wanted to forget. I didn't want to remember," Squall spoke softly.
"You ignored everyone after she left. Nothing mattered to you after that."
"Even my best friend, I recall."
"We were just kids, Squall. We can't go around laying the blame for everything on our childhood. When we grew up, we became responsible for our actions, no matter how hideous."
Squall was persistent. "But when you can't remember your childhood, maybe it affects you more than you realize? When you can't even remember your childhood friends? People you grew up in the same house with... and you don't even recognize them."
"How should I know? I could sit and talk this out for the rest of my natural life and still not have any more answers than I do now. Talking doesn't change anything. I don't want to share this burden, Squall. It's mine alone to bear."
"I'm not asking if you want to share it. I'm telling you to."
"Why? What is this, save Seifer week? There's a reason I left Squall. A reason I haven't contacted anyone in years. Did you ever stop to think about that?" Seifer's tone was bitter.
"Did you ever stop to think of anyone else while you were busy wallowing in that pity? That maybe, just maybe we needed to know you were all right?" Squall demanded.
"Why would they care Squall? Why do you care? I'm confused beyond belief," Seifer shook his head and looked out the window.
"I just do. Isn't that enough?"
"I don't know."
"Tell me Seifer, please," Squall pleaded.
"I don't know how. It took me so long just to sleep at night. To silence the screams. Silence my own screams. What I did to everyone, to you? Inexcusable. I wish I hadn't survived, but I did, and the great Sorceress' Knight was... is... too scared to kill himself."
Squall's face looked pained upon hearing Seifer's words. He had hopes that if he knew what Seifer had gone through, he'd somehow know what to do. Was there any way to reach Seifer?
Seifer's gaze drilled a hole in the floor but his body was tense, as if going to battle. "I don't know what exactly drove me to Timber to begin with. All I know is that I knew the three of you were outmatched. Cid was a fool to send you alone. To Rinoa, no less. Maybe he thought that the three of you would be compensation enough for her lack of training. I don't know. I just knew you were in over your head and I didn't even know why. It got so out of hand. I never intended for it to go so far. I thought that if maybe I took care of Deling it would solve everything? I never expected Matron to be there. I don't think I recognized her... no. I know I didn't. Perhaps residually I did. I never could turn down a challenge back then. I had no idea what I was facing. If I had known, maybe I would have had the sense to be scared. To run. You see, I wasn't her first choice, Squall. I was just the only one willing."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean she didn't want me. She took me because she couldn't get you."
Squall felt like he'd been punched in the stomach.
"I wasn't supposed to be in Timber that day. If I hadn't broken out, I would have still been at Garden. She knew you were with Rinoa's group. After your assault on Deling failed, it was only natural that you try to get him at the station. She wanted you, and when she couldn't get you, she took me as an alternative. Better an ignorant and somewhat willing accomplice than a completely unwilling one."
Squall was shocked by Seifer's revelation. He'd never even thought, for an instant, that he had been Ultimecia's true choice. How different would everything have been if he had been taken? Would Seifer have taken his place? Would Seifer now be the Hero of Garden, and Squall the outcast? That one thought was enough to make his head spin. Squall felt guilty. In all these years he'd never truly imagined himself in Seifer's place. It had always seemed natural to him that Seifer was the one chosen by the Sorceress.
"I was given my chance to prove myself at the Parade and I failed miserably. She had me so totally that I never gave a thought to what I was doing. I never questioned it, questioned why I did it. She commanded, and I obeyed. I felt that somehow I had betrayed her. I never thought I was betraying myself. Me, the most selfish bastard in existence, for once, wasn't thinking of himself. Punishment for failure was swift and severe. I learned that night what it meant to fail her. I learned..." Seifer's voice cracked and he hugged his knees to his chest, rocking back and forth.
Squall's heart broke. The emotional pain he felt manifested physically in his chest. Silently he cursed himself for demanding this of Seifer. Seifer had been correct. Squall had no right to do this. All he wanted to do in that moment was make Seifer's pain disappear. He had never felt more useless in his life than he did now.
"When they brought you to the prison, I was determined not to fail her again. I felt so much hatred toward you. Constantly she reminded me that I was inferior, that I wasn't the one she wanted. I wanted to make you feel as worthless as I did. That whole time I was determined to show her that I was the one she wanted. That I was worthy. I had to be worth something to someone, anyone. I wanted you to know what it was like to be second. I wanted to hear her say that she had been wrong, that I was the one she wanted. Again, I failed. I crawled to her, put my head in her lap, and cried. It wasn't my fault, she told me. That didn't excuse it. I had still failed. Failure was punishment."
"I begged for strength. She said she would be my strength. That she would be my power. She would be all to me that nobody ever had. I felt so weak, and I hated that weakness in myself. I shouldn't be weak. I was better than that. She fed on that, on my weakness. I had one last chance to prove myself. Nobody failed her once. I had done so twice, and she let me know that. One final time she would let me try. She would give me power. She gave me Garden. I was terrified of failure. I knew what it would bring. When you drove her out of Matron, she took Rinoa. I lay there, more scared than hurt. I didn't have any pride left to wound. I needed her, she had become everything. I needed to be worthy. There was no mistaking her voice, even in Rinoa's body. It wasn't my fault I failed. Not my fault I was inferior. My chances were over. I had done what I could. Her voice was so loving. Failure with the best of intentions was still failure, she said."
"She said I needed to be taught. I needed to know. Nothing could ever take away that onslaught. What I had experienced before at her hands was nothing compared to this. It was if she possessed me completely. All my senses, my emotions, my mind. I learned failure's price. You've never seen anywhere so hideous." Seifer's voice was flat, monotone. It was as if he wasn't truly there, just his voice and his body.
"I was out of time. Some hellish chaos. The mist so thick that it robbed my senses. I couldn't tell where I was or when I was or who I was. I couldn't even tell if I existed. All these things I saw, bits and pieces of what I thought were my memories, but I couldn't be sure. How could I have memories when I never existed? I screamed, cried, begged. I pleaded with her to rescue me, to free me. I had failed. I saw what I had been, and what I had become and I knew then that I didn't deserve to live. She had been right. I was inferior. I would see her eyes in the mist, feel her eyes on me every time I tripped and fell. I don't know how long I was there. I didn't exist in linear time. I existed somewhere outside it. Every mistake I'd ever made was there, taunting. Every time I failed. She would welcome me and hold me and say that I still hadn't learned, that I must go back. I cried, begged, pleaded. She would hold me like a child, so close to her and then I would fall into that void. Every horror my mind could conjure was there. My thoughts became reality. The more I struggled the more I lost until there was nothing left to lose."
"It was then she brought me back to her arms and she held me and whispered gently to me that she was there, that I had learned what she meant for me to know. That all she wanted now was for me to bring you to her. I could do that, couldn't I? Yes, I could. Good, good. They'll be waiting, she said. Bring them. I never even questioned that I would. There would be no failure again. At least once, I had succeeded, even at the expense of my own loss. The last thing I remember was thinking that I finally had done something right. That there would be no punishment."
"When she was defeated, I heard her call for me, she called to me, begged me to come for her. How I tried to find her. And failed. I couldn't find her, and her voice grew weak. Her curses rang in my ears. I had failed again, and so in failure I would stay. The last thing I remember was something dragging me physically into the mist, into that void and I fell into failure. Even at the last, I failed."
"I don't know how I got out. Perhaps when her powers left, when she was finally gone, in death she released me. Maybe she never intended to do that. Maybe she knew that existence was worse than death. I fear that when I die, I'll go back there, to the punishment. I can tell myself that she's gone, but that doesn't mean I believe it. So many things I'll never know, so many things I never want to. I just want to forget." Seifer sat motionless, his countenance gray and his eyes dull and lifeless.
Squall burned with shame. He had made Seifer tell him everything, when Seifer owed him no justification or reasons. He was a fool. What he had gone through paled in comparison. Anything he had ever gone through. Squall had forced the breech wide open and he now doubted Seifer would ever cross back. It had grown dark outside, just the merest hint of light filtered into the room. Seifer's features were etched deep in shadow, his gaze somehow seeing through Squall. Like he was trapped again. Squall couldn't say anything. He desperately wanted to have the words to soothe Seifer, to comfort him. Yet all he could do was sit and stare, horrified.
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