*standard I don't own FFVIII, Squaresoft, characters, etc. applies from now until whenever I decide I'm done*
By Yuri Nigasa
I had to give him credit. He was taking it well. If, of course, by 'well' it meant sitting there with his mouth just slightly agape and his eyes a storm clouded blue of confusion. He was leaning forward, tense as a bowstring, and if I had suddenly yelled 'boo' he probably would have vaulted over the arm of the couch. It was adorable in a scared little kitten kind of way.
All of two hours ago Squall Leonhart would have been content to let me rot down here in the basement of Balamb Garden. Now I had his absolute attention - not out of frustration or anger - but willingly. I would have enjoyed it more had it simply been in another context. I would have to file that as something to try for later.
"Come on, Leonhart, didn't you ever wonder why someone like me would be associating with someone like Rinoa? I'm surprised that alone didn't tip you off."
Yes, when I'm good I'm very, very good. Days like today make me glad I'm me.
"Didn't you find it just the slightest bit convenient that every single move your team made seemed to fall effortlessly into place? Take General Caraway's willingness to assist you - a green, untried team of mercenaries on a mission that important? You know full well that there are more experienced SeeD members for things like that. Balamb alone had five snipers on the active duty roster at that time. Yet somehow you end up with a sniper in training that still hasn't made SeeD yet."
"What about the parade and the D-District Prison?" Squall interrupted. Interrupted? This was getting to be a record day. I should have known he'd be a pest about that whole 'interrogation' thing. I guess he's allowed to have issues with it. I know I would.
"Let me count the times you could have died. One big green glowing ice shard to the chest. One interrogation session. One escape attempt. That makes three by my count, and I'm giving you the incident on the bridge for free. Answer me this - what happens to spies who are uncovered Squall?"
That one got me the 'I'm not going to answer the obvious' silence. I should start a scorecard.
"I would have been executed immediately had my cover been blown. That means by the time Princess and the Cowboy got around to searching for you all they would have found would have been a whole lot of corpses and one very pissed Sorceress. Instead we all lived through it. You were trained for that, Squall. I apologize if the reality didn't match up to the glamour. I didn't want to do it, but better to torture the lot of you and we all live through it than we all die because a mission is compromised."
"Did it not strike you as odd that there happened to be Moombas present in the D-District Prison? The Shumi practically revere Laguna Loire. It's not as if you go down to the nearest pet store and purchase a slew of evolved Shumi for use in running a prison."
I was being too harsh on him, and I knew it. I was pushing at him like I always did, hoping to provoke a reaction. He isn't stupid; he just gets hung up on the minutiae - a classic over thinker.
Everything he said made sense. It was like I was seeing the real Seifer Almasy for the very first time. Beyond the façade of arrogance and intimidation, there was a human being. It scared me. Had I known this person from the beginning, maybe things would have been different. Maybe there would have been one less scar.
"Why isn't Esthar actively protesting the calls for execution?" If what he said was true, President Loire should have been the one official voice of dissent.
"Where am I safer? In Esthar, a nation that, while advanced, couldn't stand up to one Sorceress, or Garden, the academy that trained the fighters that defeated the Sorceress? Laguna Loire knows that I'm more secure here in the walls of Garden than I would be any place in Esthar."
Who was Seifer, the real Seifer? My head hurt. There was just too much to comprehend. It was just another one of life's little bombshells ricocheting through my sanity.
The door chirped and opened, startling me into looking up.
"Oh! Commander, sir. I was unaware you were here."
A member of the rotating security detail walked in with Seifer's dinner. He wasn't one of the ones that had been on duty when I arrived. I must have missed the shift change. It took me a moment to think of his name - Rocco. I believe he's a hand-to-hand specialist. He had been pulling as many extra shifts as he was allowed. Something about his younger sister needing treatment for non-magical blindness. Now that the borders were open there were places in Esthar that could treat her, but it was expensive.
"At ease." The phrase was pure reflex.
"Would you like something brought from the kitchen, sir?" He was eager to impress me. Amazing - there probably wasn't all that much difference between our ages and yet due to mere circumstance I feel as if I'm older by a decade or more.
"No, thank you. I was just leaving."
I stood up, knowing full well that I was running away from the problem. I knew Seifer wouldn't cause a scene with an audience. There was too much pride in him to call me back in front of anyone. I couldn't help it, I had to think, and thinking has always best been done alone. I didn't allow myself to look down at Seifer as I passed. I already knew what the expression on his was. I took the elevator to ground level and made my way outside. The night air chilled my arms and chest. Silk was a poor substitute for leather. I had a desire to confront President Loire over this. I hated being manipulated by anyone. However, I didn't want to force him into a position of denying what Seifer was telling me. Then I would be faced with a decision I didn't want to make - believing the man I should, or the man I wanted to.
Well, that was abrupt. I took my frustration out on my dinner, cutting through the meat with a vengeance and spearing vegetables brutally with a fork. After that little scenario I would have preferred snapping Grat necks in the training center. I only say snapping necks because they had confiscated Hyperion and I honestly didn't think I'd be getting it back any time soon.
I'd managed something I had never done before. I had scared Squall off. He's never run from me before. Not even when we were out 'training' and that damned thunderstorm was rolling in and I had just been so sick of his cold, impassive persona that I snapped and the next thing I knew I had blasted him in the chest with that Fire spell and then - wham - I've laid Hyperion across six inches of his incredibly ethereal face and he's bleeding and so pissed and for once he's running on pure emotion and it was absolutely glorious how he looked at that moment. I raise my hand to trace the scar that runs from my forehead to my cheek. I wouldn't trade anything for the memory of that look on his face and the fire in his eyes.
There are a lot of things people won’t admit to themselves. I used to excel at that. However, going through the things I did made me realize a lot of things weren't the way I thought they were. Primary case in point - Squall. I never pushed him for the reasons I told myself I was pushing him. There's a lot more between us than just some childhood rivalry. I know there is for me and I believe that on some level it's that way for him as well. Nobody has ever elicited the responses he gets from me just by walking by. It's that feeling of absolute weakness I get when it comes to him that makes me push. The one thing I never could stand was feeling weak. Facing him it's like someone has shown me everything I've ever wanted in life and then absolutely barred me from ever getting it. Frustrating.
Now there's nothing to do but prowl the rooms, ignore the television, and wait. I can't very well get up and go run after him. Not that I would anyway.
Walking out had only served to make the prospect of walking back in more daunting. I stood out by the beach and watched the moonlight reflect a thousand fragments of light. Someone once told me that each diamond pinprick of light across the water's surface was a forgotten fragment of a memory. I vaguely wondered how many of those fragments were mine. Seifer had never intimidated me in my life. Why he would do so now was a mystery. Well, not so much a mystery as a refusal to acknowledge the truth.
Seifer had always been a definable equation. I knew him as well as I knew myself. His actions had always been predictable, his demeanor unchanging. I could anticipate his response to anything. Yet in the space of a few hours, everything I thought I knew needed a severe re-evaluation. It had been like seeing him for the first time. Instead of forcing myself to ignore him, I found myself willingly giving him my attention. He had never seemed approachable before.
All those years I had been staring at his back, turning away the moment he turned around, and yet tonight I sat there with him face to face and all I could think about was how I wanted to be closer. Not physically, although I had wanted that for years, but closer to him as a person. Like I wanted to sit there with him and do nothing but talk until the sun rose.
How could I walk back into that room knowing that? I couldn't. I turned my back on the moon and began the trek through the sand. I made my way across the field, listening to the skitch skritch of Bite Bugs as they darted through the high grasses. The entrance to Garden was quiet as I entered. It was after curfew, and with the exception of students who were 'training' in the Training Center; everyone else would be in their dorms. I liked it best like this, in the silence. At night Garden wasn't a place of pressure and reports and hassles. It was as much a home to me as I was ever likely to have. Sure, I had thought of leaving, everyone has. Leaving, however, generally requires a destination.
I was still at a loss as to what to do about Seifer. The heels of my boots rang out in a dull thump against the marble flooring. The acoustics echoed until it sounded like inferior clones were tailing me. I made my way to the elevator and to the second floor. Out of habit, I headed to my office. Selphie would have locked up but I always liked to make sure. The only light came from the dim emergency lights that ran constantly. Giving everything the once-over, I headed back down to the first floor and to the suite I’d had constructed out of three dorm rooms. As I entered the bedroom I took off my clothes and lay down between the cool sheets. I rolled over on my side and turned out the light. Before I fell asleep I determined that I would give Seifer that 'same time tomorrow' that he had asked for.
I awoke the next morning wishing I could stay in bed. I was only a morning person by necessity. Left to my own devices I would have never opened an eye before noon. Around here, however, things were buzzing by oh-eight-hundred. Wouldn't do for the guy in charge not to 'set the example.' When will everyone figure out that I am not a role model? If my life is any indication, I should serve as more of a warning than anything else. Unfortunately I was part of an operation that did one thing and did it well in the public's point of view. Now enrollment enquiries for Balamb Garden, headed by the great Squall Leonhart, were up sixty-two percent. Just what I needed - a bunch of adults seeking to atone for their own failures by pushing their children into a brutal lifestyle. Did these people not realize that we were not exactly an institution of higher learning? I found myself wishing that I could take every single applicant with parents to a battlefield. Let them stand among severed limbs and intestines and blood, hearing the cries of the dying begging to be killed. Let them watch the survivors suffer guilt when someone they've lived with their entire life is dead in their arms. Then let them say that this is what they want their child to become.
Reaching my office, I picked up my coffee with one hand and the week's latest requisition forms with the other. I had vowed to simplify the requisition process but I just hadn't had time to get around to it yet. It wasn't as if we had frivolous requests. Aside from the one that Zell had placed, requesting that we double the number of hot dogs ordered. What worried me is that he hadn't seen it as a frivolous thing. Most of these forms were nothing but repetitive. The same supplies in the same quantity for the same period of time... give or take. I needed to hire someone to take care of all these things that I didn't really want to bother with. Someone just trustworthy and responsible enough to push a few papers. Someone I wouldn't have to baby-sit and who knew me well enough to stay out of my way unless it was urgent. Or better yet, someone who couldn't get in my way. Gift horses, gift horses.
I buzzed Selphie on the com and had her send in a runner. After I scribbled of a quick note, I packed the requisition forms in a manila envelope and gave explicit instructions as to where they were to go. I was almost pleased enough with myself to smile.
There is nothing more inhumane than having the door panel buzz at oh-eight-thirty in the morning. Especially when you live in a basement and you can't tell if it's really morning or you somehow managed to sleep straight through until evening. I stumbled off the couch where I had fallen asleep the night before and made my way to the door. One of those sickeningly awake costume-clad guard monkeys was holding a large envelope out to me. It was too damn early for mail, not that I had gotten any before. It was just too early on principle. I took the envelope and grunted at the guard, turning my back and walking back into my darkened apartment. Curiosity got the better of my common sense, and I flicked on the lamp and unceremoniously dumped the contents of the packet onto the coffee table. A stack of forms, in triplicate, cascaded out, followed by one hastily folded piece of paper. I unfolded the paper and stared at the letters until they quit blurring.
If you could, go through these weekly requisition forms. As long as there is nothing out of the ordinary, you may put them aside for approval. Anything out of the ordinary can be discussed with me today at our meeting. You are expected at the usual time.
Since when was I on payroll? I didn't have proof, but I was sure that having detainees do your grunt paperwork wasn't considered standard procedure. I tossed the note down and scowled. Couldn't this have waited until at least eleven-hundred hours? It's not like I had plans before lunch.
I picked up the first form and read it. Blah, blah, blah... Library requests new copies of Pupurun books. Ugh, who could read that crap? I would deny it based on the sheer idiocy of the novels, but there's no rule that says I can discriminate on taste. Approval for the Library. Student Amenities requests 300 pair of the following size and type of underwear. Bravo for good old Balamb issue tidy-whities. Approval, because if you're going to wear underwear, it should at least be dependable and hole-free. Clinic requests authorization to purchase new cast saw. Sure, why not. It's not my money, anyway. On and on they went, one thing after another. Food, toilet paper, light bulbs, software upgrades, on and on until I thought I was going to pass out from boredom. Four hours, one disgustingly unappetizing sandwich - which I would stake my life on as being reprocessed Grat, and some lukewarm coffee later, I was done. I collapsed back on the couch and decided to sleep until I had to go upstairs.
He was late. Not that I had given him an exact time, but he was late. My com buzzed and Selphie warned me that the contingent was on its way up. I went over to the filing cabinet and made like I was putting away some papers when the door opened. Shutting the drawer, I turned to notice that he looked rather disheveled and was wearing the same clothes he had on the previous day. I raised an eyebrow and sat down at my desk. The door closed behind Seifer as he made his way over. He had the envelope.
"You're late," I remarked.
"You wake me up, torture me with paperwork, and deprive me of four hours' sleep. Of course I'm late." Seifer tossed the thick packet on the desk, where it landed with a soft thump.
"I'll take the forms, if there's nothing that needs to be discussed."
"Nothing having to do with the paperwork."
I shrugged noncommittally. Let him think that I only wanted the paperwork done.
"About last night..."
I looked up to find that he was regarding me intently.
"What do you intend to do about the situation? Since it is my life at stake here, I think I deserve to know what's going on."
"I have no intention of discussing anything with President Loire."
"You trust my word that much?"
I didn't say that. Don't read into it like that. "No."
"I wait and see. Until then, consider yourself in charge of requisition forms."
Seifer's stance shifted to a harder line. I'm assuming he doesn't like the fact that I'm not jumping all over the story he told. Perhaps he saw it as a failure on his part to convey the seriousness of what he'd been saying. I could tell that he wanted to push it, was thinking about it. Amazing the way I could watch his internal conflict break out into internal war just by reading his expressions.
"I see. So is that all, Commander?" Seifer's tone carried the acerbic bite of sarcasm.
No, that's not all. But that's all I'm willing to risk right now. Maybe I want to trust him a little bit more than I know is wise. I don't know. Last night changed the equation. Insert variable 'X' into issue 'B' and watch the havoc it creates. Let him keep pushing the same buttons he's been pushing at my entire life. One of these days they would get stuck. Maybe they already were.
"It is, Mister Almasy." Reflex reaction. The look on Seifer's face said it all. I couldn't believe it, but he looked hurt. He stood up, all imposing six-foot-one of him, and began to leave.
"Seifer," I called after him.
He turned like a striking viper. "What?"
"What about it?"
"I'll be by for dinner. That will be all." I refused to look up from the paperwork I had suddenly invented on my desk. After a momentary pause, the door opened and I heard the sounds of feet shuffling against the carpeting as Seifer was escorted out of the office.
I pressed my fingers to the bridge of my nose and lowered my head to the cool wood of the desk. What had I just done?
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