*standard I don't own FFVIII, Squaresoft, characters, etc. applies from now until whenever I decide I'm done*

Stealth

Chapter XII

By Yuri Nigasa

[Seifer]

I wrapped my arm around his shoulders, pulling him closer to me in the darkness.

"Seifer?"

"Hmm?" I nuzzled his ear, breathing in the scent of his skin and hair.

"I need you."

Those three little words set off a firestorm inside me.  It tore at my heart, knowing that not only did he love me, but also that he would admit that vulnerability of need to me.  That he desired me as much as I did him.

I nipped at his earlobe and growled low in my throat.  "Say it again," I demanded.

"I... need... you," he whispered.

"Face me and say it."

He turned his body so that he was pressed to me and I could tell that he was so open at that moment.  Every time I thought he couldn't surprise me anymore, he went and did something like this that proved to me how utterly wrong I was.

He pressed his mouth to mine, devouring my lips and pushing his tongue into my mouth.  He drew back and murmured against my lips, "I need you."

I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him to me so tightly I could hear him gasp.  I buried my face in the crook of his neck, kissing, licking, and biting at the spot where his pulse throbbed.  I felt his warm hands on my cool back like a trail of fire up my spine.  I forced myself to slow down.  This vulnerability in him was arousing... too arousing.  I wanted to be gentle with him, to go slowly.

I pushed him down on his back and straddled his hips, lifting my hands to slowly undo the buttons of his shirt.

"Lift up," I grunted.

He obliged and I tossed the shirt behind me before moving my hands down to undo his pants.  I got up and began to pull them down slowly as he lifted his hips to make it easier for me.  I rolled him over onto his back and straddled him again.  Leaning forward, I began to run my hands across his neck, working at the tense muscles underneath.  I heard him groan softly, hissing when I hit tender areas.  I worked his shoulders and back, working my way down to the dip right above his ass.  I ran my fingertips across the delicate skin in lazy patterns, feeling him relax at my touch.

I moved down and parted his legs, kneeling between them.  I began to knead the flesh of his buttocks, then his thighs and calves.  Once again I traced designs across his flesh, feeling him flinch when I traced a finger up the inside of his thigh, teasingly close to his balls.  I turned around and massaged his calves, then bent his leg up to rub his feet.  I moved to the side and gently slapped his ass.

"Turn over," I said.

Slowly, like a stretching cat he obliged.  I was pleased to note I was getting the response I wanted from him.  He was staring up at me, his eyes half-closed in complete relaxation.

"Close your eyes."

He did as I requested and I leaned over and began to trace the contours of his face, concentrating between his eyes and above his brow.  I gently kissed the scar between his eyes, then ran my tongue across it.  I moved down to his arms and worked the tension out of them, caressed his collarbone and chest, slowly winding my hands down to his hips.

I worked the muscles in his legs as I had before, but avoided his growing erection.  The anticipation just made him harder, and I was hard-pressed to resist sampling his taste.  I'd swear that just touching him was making me as horny as I was him.

Starting at the arch of his left foot, I traced one fingertip up the inside of his leg to the junction of his hip.  I trailed my finger through the soft hair and up one side of his shaft, feeling it jerk in response.  I trailed it back down and heard him sigh in frustration as I ran my finger down the inside of his right leg.

"How does that feel?" I asked.

He moaned softly in response.  I chuckled and leaned over, tonguing the sensitive slit of his head.  His hips moved upward and I nipped gently at him to be rewarded by a gasp of surprise.  I stood up and removed my pants then slowly crawled on my hands and knees across the bed until I was over him.  He looked up at me, raw desire in his gaze.  He lifted a hand to my burgeoning erection and I staggered slightly when he began to stroke me slowly.  I lowered my head, pressing my lips to his and placing chaste kisses on them.  His tongue darted out, flicking against the soft skin and I opened my mouth only to feel him press further in, plundering my mouth.

I lowered my hips to graze his erection with my own and I felt him stop as every muscle in his body reacted to the sensation.  A moment later he had wrapped his legs around my back and was pulling himself upward, thrusting blindly against me, the friction of his motion arousing me further.  If he didn't stop it soon, I was going to explode all over him.  I growled low in my throat and moved his legs from around me, pushing him back to the bed.  I heard him whimper in the darkness.  It was the sound of pure frustrated desire.  I moved so I could reach the nightstand, pulling out that little tube I was getting to know quite well.

I rolled him over so he was face down on the sheets.  I opened the tube and spread a little on my fingers.  Pulling him up at the hips so his ass was in the air I leaned forward and bit one of the cheeks as I ran a fingernail between them.  Once I found the constricted entrance I gently prodded at it, teasing him.  He pushed his hips back, impaling himself on my finger.  I began to work my finger in and out of him steadily as I began to stroke myself with my other hand.  I stretched him quickly before positioning myself behind him, the head of my shaft teasing at the opening of his ass.  Again he pushed back, thrusting himself on me.  I felt the muscles constrict around me and I moaned.  I pulled out slowly and pushed back in, pulling his hips back so he slid down on me as I thrust into him.

His face was buried in the sheets, hands grasping at the blankets.  I could barely hear his cries but I could feel his body shake every time I hit that sensitive spot within him.  I worked him in an agonizingly slow pace, driving me as insane as it was him.  I wanted to feel every quiver, every twitch of his body.  I leaned forward and placed a kiss on his back, wrapping one arm around to grasp his aroused shaft.  As I thrust into him it forced him forward, causing my hand to slide up and down his length.  It was maddening, resisting the urge to absolutely decimate that tight ass of his.  I moaned his name and felt him push back against me, driving me fully into him.

He began to take over, moving forward and backward impaling himself on me again and again until I felt him tense and he cried out, his come shooting all over my hand.  I groaned and began to drive myself into him, feeling him quake as I thrust.  I groaned, my orgasm beginning to flow over every cell in my body.  I felt my existence begin and end in that intimate contact as I poured myself into him, his body constricting around me, forcing every drop of my fluid from me.  We collapsed on the bed, my weight dead on top of his.  I pressed kisses into his sweating back, unable to move.

[Squall]

I was too exhausted from our lovemaking to even care that he was draped over me like he was.  My entire body was relaxed, and I lay there on my stomach, content.  At that moment, nothing mattered outside the edge of our bed.

Eventually Seifer rolled over onto his back.  I rolled over, leaning my back against his side and laying my head against his arm.  I lifted his hand to my lips and pressed a kiss to his knuckles, placing my hand palm to palm with his.  His hand was calloused, like mine, but his hand was so much larger.  It seemed to dwarf my thin fingers and smaller palm.  He entwined his fingers with mine, a reassuring gesture.  Neither of us spoke.  We didn't have to.

Unwillingly I felt myself being drawn into sleep.

I was standing in front of an altar, my gunblade in hand.  All around me ethereal forms weaved in and out of my body, through the air around me, into my very lungs.  They howled - a keening, desperate sound.  Torches flared, illuminating the darkness.  Behind the altar I could sense, rather than see, something.  Monsters emerged, the ones we had arrived in Catania to stop.  A hideous voice began to speak, sending shivers of repulsion up my spine.

"Heed me.  Heed my words.  The time draweth nigh.  The weak shall fall and the strong prevail.  I am Strong.  I shall prevail.  Aid me, and you shall live.  Deny me, and he will die."

Seifer... did he mean Seifer?  Seifer was already dead, wasn't he?  He had been executed for crimes against Galbadia.  Then why did I think I had seen him with the Sorceress?  Had that truly been him?  I couldn't remember.  I looked down to see a gaping wound in my chest, ringed with shards of bioluminescent ice.  I couldn't die, not now.  I didn't want Seifer to die, but if he was already dead, it didn't matter.  If he was dead I didn't care if I lived or died.

Hands grabbed at me from the darkness, pulling me and tugging me.  I slashed at them with my gunblade but it seemed for every one I cut, ten appeared to take its place.  Blood flowed over me, making my grip slick on the handle.  I didn't care, I just wanted out.

Grotesque faces appeared, macabre and twisted parodies of human features etched in flaccid skin.

"Your answer, Catalyst."

I wasn't a Catalyst.  I'm SeeD.  I may not know much, but I know that.

"Answer," the voice demanded.

"Whatever," I spat.

"Then we are agreed."

I felt myself being pulled back, away from the dank stench of that place.  I pulled in a ragged breath.  I opened my eyes to see that I was in Seifer's arms.  The blaze of a fire warmed me but it was the woman across it that demanded my attention.  She was timeless looking, deep brown hair threaded with strands of auburn, piercing violet eyes, well proportioned nose, a bow mouth, and slightly pointed chin.  She was draped in silk that seemed to be made from the fire before me.

"I will have your pledge, Catalyst," she said, "In return for your life."

"Seifer," I murmured.  He didn't seem to understand me.

My life?  The wound.  The battle.  I was dead.  That was the only possible answer.  I was dead.  Seifer was with me.  He had died at the hands of the Galbadians.  We were dead.  At least, in death, I found myself in his arms.  I gazed around me in stark terror, realizing the Guardians surrounded me.  What had that thing been?  It, too, had called me Catalyst.  I didn't want to be anything.  No Catalyst, nothing.  It had demanded agreement from me as well.  My body was in extreme pain.  I cried out.

"I'll agree to anything I don't care I don't care I don't care...."

If he's truly dead, let me die in peace with him... maybe in whatever afterlife there may be, we'll get another chance.  I swear I won't waste it.

I woke, clutching Seifer's arm in a viselike grip.  What was happening to me?

[Seifer]

The blaring of the com woke me from a dead sleep.  It took me a moment to realize it wasn't my unit, but Squall's.  I nudged him gently.

"Squall, com."

"I hear it," he said, sounding fully awake.  I felt him stir and pick up the unit from the bedside stand.  "What is it?" he growled.  "I left orders that I was not to be disturbed."

"Sir, it's an emergency," came the voice from the other side. I couldn't identify who it was, but doubtless Squall knew.

"What is it?"

What came next chilled me.  "There's been a raid, sir.  We have four injured."

I felt an unknown terror constrict my chest.

"Status?" Squall asked.

"Critical, sir.  Members Asimov, Yenrai, Eckner," a wave of sickness hit me...  Elijah, "and Celonias."

"Understood.  Will be there immediately."  He hit the button on the com, closing the connection.

I was already getting my pants and shoes on.  I felt guilty.  Maybe if I had stayed on duty, I could have changed something.  Maybe I could have made the difference.  Maybe you'd be one of the wounded, a small voice rang in my subconscious, and then where would you be?  Had Elijah taken the injury that by rights had been mine?  The only person who'd made an effort to accept me was now critically wounded.

"Seifer."  Squall's voice shook me out of contemplation.

I looked over at him in unspoken answer.

"Does this have anything to do with...  He let the rest go unspoken.

"I don't know.  Why?"

"Just a feeling."

There was something he wasn't telling me.  He wasn't the type given to 'just a feeling.'  He wouldn't have brought it up unless there was some reason to.

"Squall."  My skepticism was evident in my tone.

"No, really.  It's just a feeling."

"Fine."  I finished buttoning my shirt.  "You ready?"  I heard the soft sound of the chains of his boots rustling in the darkness.

"All set."

I headed to the door and took the steps down two at a time.  I headed to a parked Garden vehicle and slid into the driver's seat.  The engine turned over easily.  A moment later Squall sat down beside me.  I threw the engine into reverse, then forward, and headed for the Command Center.

[Squall]

I couldn't rid myself of the sick feeling inside my chest.  Had my dream corresponded to the raid?  All I could remember were those hideous faces, the arms, and the blood.  Was reality intruding on my already troubled mind or was there something more?  Beside me, Seifer was silent.  I felt like I was fraying at the seams.  I didn't know what to think, what to do.  I thought I had been overwhelmed when in the midst of the Ultimecia crisis I had been made Commander... it was nothing compared to this feeling.

We lurched to a stop outside Command.  In a flash we were out of the vehicle and racing inside.  It was a testament to the absolute prowess of our team that they had made it through it.

"Status," I said as I entered.

"As before, Sir.  It is unknown if we got to them in time.  Celonias had been on patrol when something tripped the perimeter sensor at oh-two-forty.  He was joined by Eckner and Asimov at approximately oh-two-forty-three.  At oh-two-forty-five Yenrai arrived and radioed that they were in desperate need of assistance.  He confirmed the presence of the unknown monsters, said he had visual confirmation of seven of them.  Two had been destroyed, but the rest were still fighting."

I nodded curtly.  "Were any of the dead recovered?"

"Negative, Sir.  The group was forced to retreat due to the severity of their wounds.  It appears that Celonias was able to restore the group in part, but that didn't save them from some unknown form of systemic shock.  We found them approximately point six-five kilometers from the site of the initial encounter.  They were not pursued."

"Sir," a voice interrupted.

"Yes, Ms. Terpischore?"

"We... we lost Yenrai, Celonias, and Asimov.  We assume Eckner to be terminal as well.  We tried revival, but were unsuccessful.  Something blocked the effect, possibly the same thing that caused the restorative magic to cause systemic shock."

I ran a hand through my hair.  Countermagical agents, possibly?  Something that could block the effect of a Phoenix Down?  This was supposed to be a routine mission, nothing dangerous, nothing strange... and nobody... nobody dies.  "Thank you," I said, nodding.  "Please contact Garden and inform acting Commander Dincht of the development."  The inhuman calm I manifest in a crisis was both blessing and curse.  Great for keeping people composed, but it makes me seem like a cold-hearted bastard.  "Arrange for transport to be sent... for the bodies."

I felt a hand on my shoulder.  Seifer.  "I'm going to go see Elijah while I still can."

I nodded and he turned and left.

[Seifer]

Knowing something and seeing them are two different things.  You can know of a war, but unless you've stood in the battleground when the body parts start flying, you've never seen war.  It was the same with fallen comrades.  Elijah looked pale, his features the expressionless form of the unconscious.  His violet hair had begun to come lose from his braid and was beginning to curl about his neck in tendrils.

I sat down beside the cot and laid my hand on his.  I felt for the pulse.  It was wavering.  One more death waiting to add itself to my conscience.  I couldn't bear it.  How much was I supposed to take?  Inside I felt a potent wave of remorse hit me as I felt a surge of power flow through at the point where my hand contacted his.

"You are tenderhearted, Knight.  Would you save them all from suffering?"

I jerked my head up.  She stood before me once again.  "Hyne," I said.

"Yes.  I see they grow bold in their advances now."  She laid a hand to Elijah's brow.  "Their armies are poised to spill through the portal.  Time grows short.  What of the Catalyst?"

"Why do you ask questions you already know the answers to?"

"But I do not know, Knight.  My time here is limited, my awareness veiled.  Without the Catalyst, I cannot pass through the gates that divide this world from mine.  Do you not know of the Sundering?  Has it truly been so long that none remember the Sacrifice?  The blank stare on my face must have answered her question.  She looked saddened.

"There is one who may aid you.  Chronos, the Kursed Guardian."  The way she said it made me shiver.  For that one instant she sounded exactly like Ultimecia.  "Seek the Sentinel of the Cavern.  He alone can lead you to the Guardian."

I felt the power recede from me even as she seemed to dispel into mist.  I hadn't even taken my hand off Elijah's.  I saw his eyes flutter, then open in confusion.  How?  Had she?

"Hey, welcome back."

"Seifer."  He sounded weak, but relieved.

Despite all the trauma of the past few hours, I couldn't help but smile.

[Squall]

Some time later Seifer walked back in, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.  He whispered in my ear, "Elijah's going to make it."

"How?"

"Not here," he said in a low tone of voice.  "Outside."

The last time I'd followed him outside I'd found myself privy to a lot of information I hadn't necessarily wanted.  I was hesitant to go again.

"Come on," he urged.

Somewhat like a recalcitrant puppy, I followed along at his heels.  When we reached the outside I leaned back against the wall and folded my arms across my chest.  I quirked an eyebrow at him and waited.

"I don't know how it happened, but she appeared again.  I felt this power, and when she left, he opened his eyes."

Lovely.  Just great.  Fabulous.  All manner of sarcastic remarks ran though my head, but my lips decided on a simple, surprised, "Oh?"

He swallowed hard, and looked up at me.  "I feel like we should trust her.  Squall, she saved him.  I know she did.  Whatever is going on, it's urgent.  Something's wrong.  She said something about an event in the past she called the Sundering.  She also mentioned a Sacrifice."

I shook my head in negation.  "I don't have a clue."

"Neither do I.  She said to seek out the Kursed Guardian, that this one...  Chronos... might know.  Something about finding him through the Sentinel of the Cavern."

I sighed heavily.  The entire situation was giving me an odd, detached sense of reality.

"We can't handle this alone, Squall.  We need the rest of them here."

The last thing I wanted to do was to drag my friends through a problem I'd apparently gotten myself into.  I scowled, my face obstinate.

"Oh stop it."  His voice intruded on my thoughts.  "If you don't try to reach them, I will.  Even if it means hopping a train back to Balamb."

I glared, but it never quite reached my eyes.  He was too endearing to be irritated at when he got like that.  "Fine.  I'll do it, but you've got to figure out where to start."

He snorted.  "I think you got the easy part."

I smirked at him, "I know I did."

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