Chapter One

By Kuttner

Zell was dead.

There was only the two of them left

They had no time to mourn him. They had to move on quickly.

The mission was already a failure.

The frozen cavern loomed menacingly before them. Despite the dangers that potentially lay ahead, Seifer sheathed his gunblade and reached out to take Squall's leather gloved hand in his.

Squall relinquished his weapon likewise to allow Seifer's touch. They should remain prepared and focused, weapons at the ready, especially after the loss of Zell, but the smallest comfort was needed now. Their target was somewhere in this cavern of ice far up in the wasteland, northeast of Trabia Garden.

Seifer gave a tight smile to Squall. His eyes held a warmth that was reserved only for his lover.

A tiny fatalistic smile appeared on Squall's face to match Seifer's own. His eyes too, were not as cold as they once were, but along with the warmth there was a very real fear.

It felt like the end.

Over two years had passed since Seifer had been expelled for participating in the sorceress Ultimecia's scheme. So much had happened since and yet so little had changed. Through quiet persistence Squall had Seifer's position at Garden reinstated. He understood Seifer better than anybody and could understand the blond's reasons, not even considering the spell he'd been under. Even then the seeds had been growing of what was first admiration, became friendship and bloomed finally into love a little over a year ago. The night Seifer found out he'd passed his exams finally and become officially a SeeD was the first night they'd made love. So the memories of their first time were strong, pleasant and vivid. It had continued to get better. Their romance had flourished, becoming rather a scandal at the Garden as they were too smitten with each other to keep their love hidden. They were often spotted holding hands or kissing in the hallways. Once the rumors got back to Headmaster Cid, a long discussion in his office was had and the two young lovers agreed to restrain their affections in public. A stable relationship was acceptable, he had said, and the fact that they were both male was not an issue. The problem most students couldn't fathom was the fact that it was Seifer with Squall. The protector and savior of Garden and the world with the man who nearly destroyed it. Most people still did not trust Seifer and some believed that he would corrupt Squall with his ideals and arrogance.

Squall knew better. One, that he'd never been a conformist or a follower in that if he disagreed with Seifer he'd tell him so. And two, that, though Seifer did indeed possess an ego and a high set of his own ideals, his heart was in the right place more than most people realized. Trying to do the right thing has led him into the trouble that everyone condemned him for now. Few remembered that fact. That his methods were showy and somewhat unorthodox betrayed his true intentions of chivalry and protection of others. Squall understood his lover more as the months had passed and their connection was now strong, forged from turmoil and redemption to peace and devotion.

No one would ever break their love apart.

Holding hands now, they became stronger and as one they entered the cavern. That their skin wasn't touching was irrelevant, the physical presence of the other was enough.

Zell had been taken from them by a mere Snow Lion. It had not been extremely powerful or even lucky. He was dead only because their supplies had diminished. They had no phoenix down left and even curagas were in short supply. They had started off well equipped but the journey had been arduous and there'd been no turning back.

This force - believed to be just a man - had to be stopped, before his power became too great to prevent a tyrant greater that Ultimecia from taking control of the world. Even at this low power the wizard had hit them with enough monsters which, while nothing they couldn't handle in small groups, had come in such numbers all their reserves and back ups were all but dried up. Even most of their GF's were destroyed. Diablos was weak but still holding on in Squall's head. Siren and Shiva were both still strong on Seifer's side but all the rest were gone, and with no GF restorers, maybe they were gone forever.

They had not walked far into the cavern before a voice boomed out at them, seemingly from the walls.

"So you made it this far," there was a chuckle. "All in vain..."

There was an uproar suddenly of clanging and cracking of ice as their surroundings, apparently so real a moment ago, shifted under the weight of the wizard's spells or merely by his command. At once they were trapped in a room with no exit. The walls looking to be of solid rock; melting ice trickled down; puddles at their feet. But not for long, as the floor started to open up under them. The trickle of water becoming a vertical waterfall to the abyss below. Going to the edge they saw the pit was steaming with lava which hissed as the water splashed upon it. There was not nearly enough melting ice to even cool the lava and the floor was steadily becoming less floor than open space.

There was no point drawing their weapons with no visible enemy to fight so Seifer still held firmly to Squall's hand. Squall squeezed it now, gracing Seifer with an encouraging smile when Seifer glanced at him. On Squall's face the smile, such a rare jewel, made him look beautiful. They both searched the room with their eyes, looking for an escape route. There was none.

The low chuckle from the walls came again.

"Time is running out... But I admire you both - you came this far... I will give you a chance."

They listened, keeping an eye on the ever widening gap.

"I will let you live... However that offer is not for both of you... One must sacrifice himself to the pit for the other to survive..."

Squall and Seifer exchanged a panicked glance. Even if they trusted this disembodied voice, the consequences...

"No!" Seifer called out to the air. "The terms are unacceptable!"

"You don't trust me - that is understandable... I assure you, I am a man of my word... If one dies then the other may face me, one on one. Or you may both die now. That is your choice."

They both heard the words, though they didn't want to.

Time was against them. There was very little of the floor left.

They were close together. In a blink they were in each other's arms.

"I don't want to leave you," Seifer whispered. "But I can't have you die with me."

"Seifer...," Squall said his lover's name with emotion, hugging him harder.

"If there is no choice for us, then I'll be the one," Seifer said resolutely.

Squall reached up and they locked together in a desperate kiss. The low chuckling came from the walls again, almost mocking their little farewell scene.

They broke apart. Squall's eyes were calm as he smiled up at Seifer.

"Make it mean something," Squall said sadly and backed away.

Seifer saw what Squall was doing too late.

"No!!" He cried as Squall descended into the hellish pit. He'd meant to be the one, not Squall, but the brunette had been too quick, taking the initiative, no choice but his own.

There was no cry as Squall fell, and Seifer did not want to see his love burning in the lava. He wrenched his gunblade from its holster and let out a scream of rage and despair, smashing the weapon violently into the rock walls. The illusion trembled. Seifer didn't notice. He was too caught up in his grief. He hacked at the wall, thinking it futile.

He would have jumped too, followed Squall to his death but he knew Squall had sacrificed himself for Seifer's life and his parting words - make it mean something... Squall did not want his sacrifice to be in vain. Seifer had to live to fight; to kill the enemy that had just killed his meaning of life.

The walls shuddered, a moan echoed through them. Seifer finally noticed the effect his blade had on them, as if they were a living thing not solid rock at all.

An illusion? Was the whole thing an illusion? Was the hell pit an illusion...? Squall...

The sorcerer was a man of his word. Soon after Seifer realized what it was, the fake walls dropped, dissolving into the open cavern they'd entered.

The enemy appeared.

And the battle began.



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