Chapter 21 - N.p.s.N.g.s., Part IV

<I'll be there>

By YuriNigasa

The leather of his trench coat creaked as he folded his arms across his chest. He stood with his legs apart, his entire posture exuding confidence. Seifer's mouth was curled into a smug grin and his eyes glinted like grass covered in morning dew. Let Ultimecia think what she would. She would never know that she had a rebellion on her hands until it was too late. Seifer wasn't the boy he had been. In claiming his past and understanding it he stood with a power he had never rivaled even in the heated passions of youth.

"Handsome. It bekomes you better than kowardice. Finally you begin to understand what it is to be a Knight." Ultimecia stared at him, her head tilted to the side, regarding him steadily.

"I will seize the destiny I forsook so long ago. I was weak then, untested," Seifer's entire demeanor had changed. His life had been in danger before, but this time he sensed an air of finality he had never experienced.

"I kan sense them gathering. They do not seek me. They seek you. This is to my advantage. I will not be made a fool of by those kursed SeeDs now," she reclined back on her elbows.

Seifer nodded his head in assent. "This time will be different."

"I wish to see with my own eyes what they are preparing. I shall return." Ultimecia rose and turned her back on Seifer, the mist obscuring a path through this existence that only she could see.

It was a chance Seifer couldn't pass on. He had to prepare. This time it would be different, indeed. As she disappeared, he prepared himself mentally for the shift to the place he had made wholly his own. It was time to make ready his stand.

Squall had curled his body next to Seifer's in hopes that any shift that Seifer made would wake him. In a habit instilled by years of training, Squall never fully drifted to sleep, inhabiting instead that brief space that held sway in the moment that dark became dawn. What brought him fully awake was not movement, however. It was the palpable feeling of a presence in the room. Reactions honed to instinct, his eyes opened in the darkness but his body made no movement, his breathing unaltered from sleep. He could see no shadow out of place, but the feeling persisted. As his eyes dilated to take in the wan light it was only then that he caught a telltale presence of movement - and a hint of glowing amber as Seifer's eyes closed.

It seemed Ultimecia hadn't gone anywhere. Rather, simply walked away only to return to retrieve some forgotten element, but that was the deception. There was no way to judge how long someone had been gone when there was no time. It had been enough, though, for Seifer to reclaim something he had forgotten. Tucked away against the low wall in his private land, Hyperion now rested, gleaming black and edged in blood.

Squall didn't panic. The last thing he needed to do was to lose himself in some emotionally driven flurry of activity. He didn't doubt what he had seen, given the fact that all that had occurred bore an uncanny resemblance to the events proceeding the Adel incident at the Station. Reaching for the handset, he was greeted by a groggy sounding receptionist when his call to the Balamb Hotel rang through.

"Edea Kramer's room, please," he requested tersely.

"One moment sir."

If Matron had been sleeping soundly, it wasn't betrayed by her voice. Squall suspected that she hadn't been to bed yet. She didn't sound surprised to hear him. Like some Garden mission report, Squall gave her the details of what had just happened. It hurt him to treat this with clinical detachment, but if he allowed himself to fall into worry and grief he'd be no use to Seifer or anyone else. There was silence on the line as Edea gave thought to what Squall had told her.

"I see no reason to wake anyone over it. I wish Ellone had been with you. Perhaps that would have been the moment we needed to discover what occurred. I am not doubting your word Squall, but, if indeed we do face her again, she has proven more cunning than anyone could expect. I do not understand what she could hope to gain from some futile last stand. There isn't anything we can accomplish right now. Go back to bed and get some rest. Call me again if anything else occurs."

Placing the handset back in the cradle, Squall looked over at Seifer's unconscious form. Reaching out in darkness, Squall ran a fingertip over Seifer's scar, and then his own. Of all the moments that defined his life, that exchange had undeniably been the one that had marked him - physically and mentally - the most. Closing his eyes, he could swear that every single move, every breath, every thought of that exchange was as real as the moment it had happened. If he concentrated, he could feel the way the very air around him had crackled with electricity. Squall had been bound to Seifer his entire life, it had just taken him most of that life to realize it. Now that Squall knew how Seifer felt, as much as he would have faced the very powers of hell for his friends, for Seifer, Squall would face them a hundredfold.

"Only he is there," she hissed. "Guarding. It seems they are not so kautious now. Ahh, if only I kould regain what which I have lost."

Seifer was a master of flattery. He was wagering that flattery and lies would be enough to allay Ultimecia's suspicions.

"Why should they think of you? They have no reason to suspect anything. Your cunning in surviving Compression has certainly taken away the sweetness of their victory."

"You are right. It is only a shame that so much of my power is gone. I wanted to reach over and snap his neck for all he did to ruin me. I misjudged him. He would have made a poor Knight for one such as I. If only I had not been forced into the time stream of mortals. I fear I would have fared better with you as my Knight as you stand before me now than you were then. You have bekome the Knight I needed."

Those words would have pleased him before. Now they only solidified his reserve and determination against the abomination that stood before him. Perhaps it was the fact that she was bound by desperation, but Seifer felt that he now had the trust that would enable him to bring about the ruin of Ultimecia once and for all. It was his mind, and Seifer would be damned before he'd capitulate to anyone over something that was his and his alone. All he needed was one more opportunity to head back and reclaim Hyperion before he faced Ultimecia.

Squall had fallen into a fitful sleep, haunted by the images of Time Compression and the horrors of being lost out of time. His memories of calling out in vain to anyone melded into a dream where he wandered about, calling Seifer's name. It seemed he could almost make out a figure in front of him, but every time he moved forward, the figure receded further into the fog. Squall was hopelessly lost. A wave of despair hit him with the force of a violent physical assault and he collapsed to the ground, the impact jarring him awake.

Sweat covered his body and his breath was coming in short gasps. Seifer lay beside him, unchanged. Squall had felt Seifer's presence in his dream. There was something there that he had to figure out, if only his mind would focus. Calming his thoughts, he reflected step by step on his dream, knowing somehow that in that half-reality he would find the key he needed. Just a few more precious minutes and perhaps he would figure it out. The clock on the wall announced that it was a quarter 'til ten.

At seven minutes 'til Squall stood up, his body tense and mind focused as if prepared for battle. Bending over Seifer's prone figure he placed a kiss on his forehead and gently traced Seifer's lips with his index finger. In a hushed whisper he said, "I swore I would be here. I have no intentions of forgetting that promise."

At six minutes 'til he walked out of the room with a desperate plan to find Seifer.

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