*standard I don't own FFVIII, Squaresoft, characters, etc. applies from now until whenever I decide I'm done*
By Yuri Nigasa
I ran through the woods, heedless of leaving my post, the Field Exam the last thing on my mind. I didn't even bother to use the com, unwilling to run what I had to say through proper channels. My chest began to burn as my lungs begged for air. I burst through the door of the Command Center, and was greeted with stony silence until Squall looked up. Immediately I could see his concern, that is, I could see it in his eyes. His face remained that impassive mask of command.
"Squall..." I gasped. Fuck formality, this was too much.
He folded his arms across his chest and made his way to the door, following me outside.
As soon as the door shut behind him, his demeanor changed. He put a hand to my arm, brow furrowed. "What is it?" he demanded.
"Why didn't you say anything to me?"
He was perplexed. "About what?"
"You don't remember?"
She had told me to remember but I couldn't. I had made myself forget. I didn't want to remember.
"Dammit Squall! What's been going on that you haven't said anything to me?"
Did he mean my dreams? How did he know about them?
"They're just dreams, Seifer."
His voice dropped to a whisper. "You really don't remember."
"What do you mean? Seifer quit the game and just tell me." I was frustrated with my own inability to comprehend what he was talking about.
"I mean that our debt is due, Squall."
In the darkness I heard the ringing of chimes. As one, Seifer and I turned to see Alisa Case step from the shadows. Something was different, though. Her walk, her bearing, some intangible thing I couldn't place.
"He is correct," her voice was deep and sensual, yet distorted slightly.
Seifer took a step back in shock. "Oracle," he said softly.
"Knight," she nodded her head toward him.
Oracle? Knight? What was going on? I looked back and forth between the two of them, bewildered. I took several steps backward until I found myself pressing my back to the wall.
"What the hell is going on?" I demanded.
"He does not know?" her voice and mouth were out of synch, as if something was speaking through her.
"He knows, but does not remember," Seifer's head dropped as he spoke.
"Hyne..." she began.
"He doesn't remember. He thinks they're only dreams. He enlisted the aid of the Guardians to erase the memories from his mind."
"The Guardians?" she asked.
"They cannot be blamed. They were instructed to assist, and so they did. It was unexpected that he used them in the manner he did."
"Would you quit talking about me like I'm not here!"
Seifer turned as if noticing me for the first time since she had arrived. He glanced at me then turned back to her. "I beg indulgence, Oracle."
She nodded at him and he walked over to me.
"What," I hissed, "is going on?"
"Squall, I don't know how to tell you. If you can't remember, my explanation won't do any good. Tonight, she appeared to me. I ran to find you. She said you didn't remember but I didn't believe her. Why Squall, why did you do it?" His expression was pained.
"She?" I asked. "You mean the woman..."
"The woman? That is all you know her as?"
"Who is she, Seifer? Why are you calling Alisa 'Oracle'? Why is she calling you 'Knight'?
"Because she is the Oracle. I am the Knight," he looked at me and fell silent for a moment. "And you, Squall... you are the Catalyst."
"What are you talking about 'Catalyst'?"
"You bring change. I am the defender. She is the voice."
"Whose change? Whose defender? Whose voice?"
His voice resonated in the darkness as he spoke a single name. "Hyne."
I could tell he didn't understand. He didn't remember as I did. He had no reason to believe my words outside of his belief and trust in me.
"Hyne?" he asked.
"You recall nothing, Squall?"
"No," He sounded shocked.
"Oracle," I called.
"Knight," she responded.
"What can we do?"
"I do not know. He is her chosen. She would not give him that which he could not bear."
Chosen of Hyne? Had Seifer lost his mind? What about Alisa Case? Had the entire mission been a ploy? What had she done to Seifer?
"Nothing, Catalyst. I am not responsible for the debt you owe her."
I was unaware I had spoken out loud. "What debt?"
"Our lives," Seifer said.
I had so many questions and no answers. I was so lost and confused.
"But I thought..."
"That she was a myth?" Seifer finished for me.
I nodded, a numbness spreading its way through my mind.
"As did I... before..." he trailed off.
I stared at him in bewilderment. "Before what?"
Once again I found myself in a position of explaining myself with no proof. As before, it wasn't my place to tell him anything. I didn't know everything. I barely knew anything. I didn't know everything that had gone on. Whatever it had been, I wasn't sure revisiting it was a great idea.
"Deling City," I began. "The night of the parade, after Rinoa had been foolish enough to try and stop the power of Edea and the consciousness of Ultimecia with a cheap parlor-trick piece of jewelry. There was no way you could stop her and I knew it. So I stepped in your way, hoping that maybe the shock of seeing me would make you rethink what you were going to do. I don't know what you were thinking, going in like that."
"Then again, you didn't have the view I did when that slug hit the barrier. Take a high-velocity round and fling it into a pure energy shield and it's a sight. It hit and as I watched it was like I could see it flatten out, becoming this thin disk of metal that disintegrated before my eyes."
"I tried to stop you, but I wasn't prepared to do battle with three of you, all junctioned. When she got tired of playing with you... I know you think you did well, and you did for what you were capable of, but she was toying with you the entire time. When you were no longer entertaining, you were expendable. I saw that shard form in her hands and it impacted you here," I placed my hands on the upper left side of my chest, "and you flew backward, you were dead. You know a Phoenix Down can't replace limbs or organs. It can't replace what's not there to revive."
"They had taken the rest of them away. She left you there, broken, at the foot of her throne. I knelt down and cried."
A strange look came over Squall's face as he stood, listening. "You... cried over me?"
It was a strange thing he had chosen to comment on, like it had been the first thing of relevance to him. I couldn't resist the look in his eyes. Maybe I was the Knight, and maybe he was the Catalyst, but I was his and he was mine before we would be anything else to anyone, even Hyne herself. I ran my finger across his lips and nodded.
"When I received power from Edea, there had been something else transferred with it. Something she didn't even know she had inside her."
I saw him make the connection. I nodded, and he spoke. "The Gift of Hyne."
"Somehow, when powers are transferred from Sorceress to Knight, there is something in that connection that ties the one called the Knight to the power in the Sorceress. Because Ultimecia didn't actually bequeath her own power, but Edea's, I was actually Edea's Knight. For the power to flow from Sorceress to Knight, it requires that the Sorceress give support or aid when the Knight is defending her against threat. Before being taken over by Ultimecia, Edea had never been a threat, so she had no need for a Knight. By rights, it should have been Cid. By luck, it was me. If it hadn't been me, you would have been dead."
"Imagine a rope, composed of smaller threads. Imagine that is the conduit for the Gift of Hyne. From Hyne it came, passed on to her descendants, and to their descendants. When a Sorceress takes a Knight, from that thread of the Sorceress, a portion is split and that represents the Knight. Because they are joined into the same conduit of power, the Knight is tied to Hyne as much as any Sorceress."
"It was my pain that brought her forth. All I remember is that one moment I was kneeling by you, holding your lifeless body, and the next... I was somewhere else. She was seated on a dais, surrounded by beings I would come to recognize well. The Guardians. She stood and when the hem of her skirt shifted around her it filled the air with the sound of chimes. When she spoke, I could hear the power that flowed through her. She demanded to know how I had called her forth, a mere Knight summoning her. Then she saw you in my arms. 'Catalyst' was the only word she spoke. It was as if every being in the grove ceased to move."
"'The Time approaches,' she said, 'I have been summoned in the Time of Need. The Catalyst has come, giving his life to bring my Knight. Aid them in the Time of Need.' She turned to face me and said 'I will give you back that which you have lost, on your pledge and the pledge of the one who brought you to me.' I was at a loss, but I knew I'd do whatever it took to get you back. Without a second thought I swore fealty to her and you drew a breath. I had never seen such terror in your eyes as I did then. She demanded a pledge from you, drew it from you even as you drew life from her. We would not remember again until we were needed. In a flash we were once again in Deling City, as if we had never left. I only knew that it had been real because you were alive. I could touch flesh were before there had been only a gaping hole."
"I tried to hold on to the memory of what had happened, but I felt it slipping away faster the tighter I tried to hold on to it. Edea came back and saw that somehow you were alive. She accused me of it, but even as she accused me, she knew it wasn't possible. I was only a Knight, after all. She ordered you taken to the Prison... and now you know my part of the story."
"Why would I force myself to forget this, when apparently I shouldn't remember anyway?"
I shook my head. "I can't answer that. Only you know what you went through. There are things I don't know. I only know my part, Squall. I didn't even remember what little I know until she unlocked the memory within me."
Answers to some things had only served to provide a dozen new questions for each answer given. Once again it seemed I was nothing more than someone's puppet. I silently cursed fate for the hand I had been dealt. I felt strong arms around me and I melted into Seifer's embrace. I never wanted to leave the safety of that moment. I turned to face the woman I no longer saw as Garden's client.
"I don't know what you did with the woman who was Alisa Case, but I suggest you find her and go inside and inform them that you have need of the Commander and Cadet Almasy for the next forty-eight hours. Then I suggest you leave us the hell alone for two days," I growled. It was all I could do to keep control of myself.
She turned and walked inside. I looked up at Seifer, a sudden weariness in my body that threatened to drop me on the spot. "Hotel, now," I demanded. One arm around my waist, the other hand grabbing me around the wrist to support as much of my body weight as he could, we made our way back to our room.
Reaching the base of the stairs I felt Seifer lift me up in his arms. I was too overwhelmed to care that anyone might see. I wrapped my arms around his neck and closed my eyes. When we stopped I put one arm down and reached in my pocket for the key. As I opened the door to the darkened room, I half anticipated the appearance of that ghostly specter again. I was greeted with blessed darkness. Seifer put me down on the bed and I curled into a ball, wrapping my arms around my knees and hugging them to my chest. I felt the weight of his body press down at the side of the bed and I heard him removing his boots. They thumped on the floor and then I felt his hand running through my hair. I grabbed his hand and pulled it to my chest, wrapping his arm around my shoulder.
He lay down beside me, wrapping his strong body around mine. I was confused. I was scared. I wished my existence ended at the edge of this bed.
"Seifer," I whispered.
Why me? Why him? Is this what the mantle of destiny felt like? To feel so completely and utterly out of control, unable to control your own fate? I thought back to all the stories adults tell children, and wondered if someone had told them to me. All the gallant lords, all the noble ladies, all doing what they should because that's how heroes behave. They never once mention the complete and utter torment. I had handled things well before... it hadn't even been that long ago. Not even two months, and, apparently whatever it is I'm facing will make what I went through look like the first practice of a second year Cadet's presentation.
"No matter what..." I sounded so uncertain. I was so uncertain. I felt I didn't know anything anymore.
"I'll always, Squall, always," he said, answering my unspoken question.
"I don't want to go to sleep tonight."
He was silent. I ran my hand up to his bicep, feeling the muscles contract under my touch. I suddenly felt self-conscious, wondering if our movements were being observed. I hated it all. I loathed the fact that to save my life, Seifer had damned himself into the role he seemed unable to escape. I hated that a pledge had been extracted from me that I didn't remember making. It wasn't right - it wasn't fair. What if we had unwittingly allied ourselves with something sinister? Seifer had said he had seen the Guardians, but that meant nothing. It would be nothing for them to assist us, if it only served to further the goals of their mistress or their own machinations. What was that saying about the path of the damned and good intentions? I couldn't remember exactly, but the sentiment fit the situation well.
I couldn't believe that Seifer had given up so much just to save me. At the time I would have said it wasn't worth it, but laying here in his arms, I felt so complete. If I had died I would have missed all this. I didn't deserve him, someone who cared about me the way he did. Someone who, as much as I chafed under the idea, protected me. Someone who was patient, gentle, understanding. Loving. I was in love and I knew it. It scared me, how much he meant to me. Always controlling my heart, my emotions... until that one night, when he refused to let me go. He had become my only weakness.
I felt his hand running up and down my thigh, a reassuring rhythm that lulled me into some form of contentment. His breath was warm on my ear and I turned a little, so that his lips pressed lightly into my cheek. I felt him kiss me, a gesture of affection that would probably seem so startling to an outside observer.
In a life that was now uncertain, he was my rock, my stability. Whatever I faced, with him, I could defeat.
Fragile. Caution: might break if handled roughly. He should come with warning labels tonight. I could read it in his look; sense it in his posture. He had barely moved since I had laid him on the bed. I could tell he was thinking things over. I often wondered just what went on behind that beautiful face. He was so open to me and yet I still didn't know all I wanted to.
I was scared. I refused to show it in front of Squall though. I wouldn't let him see the side of me that had emerged after she had left me in the grove, sobbing on my knees. He'd hate it if he knew I was protecting him, in some small part. Squall was the most important thing in my life, and Hyne herself could just be damned if she thought that my agreement with her would supercede that.
How had I known the Oracle when she had appeared? I had never seen her before and yet the recognition had been undeniable. I wondered about her story. I could see my part in it, my path to where I now stood, but hers? I didn't even begin to guess how one became the voice for something so powerful.
I was sick of Sorceresses and magic and powers and Guardians and being the pawn in a game I didn't understand or want to play. I wonder if a hundred years from now, people will even believe this really was happening? The beauty of the skeptical human mind. I wondered if some day all this would all be explained in a concrete, rational, manner. It disturbed me to ascribe supernatural descriptions to things just because they weren't quantifiable by current means. I had always viewed such habits as the sign of a weak mind.
Squall stirred against me and I placed a kiss to his cheek. He seemed to be calming down, which was reassuring. We could make it through this. We'd already made it through one Sorceress on opposite sides, surely together we could handle another one, whatever her motivations.
Once we did ...
I was taking the mother of all extended vacations and taking him with me.
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