*standard I don't own FFVIII, Squaresoft, characters, etc. applies from now until whenever I decide I'm done*
By Yuri Nigasa
"This is where we found the manuscript." Uzuki was standing at the base of Heroth's memorial. He found the manuscript around the Guardian of Knowledge? Huge surprise there.
"Was it simply sitting out?" Quistis asked.
"Oh no, not at all. The manuscript itself was located inside a box on what we think was an altar. We took the piece back to Trabia for analysis. When we're done, it will be shipped to the history museum in Deling City for display. Follow me back this way."
I raised an eyebrow when he offered Quistis his hand. She caught my look and blushed, but didn't hesitate to take his hand.
"Watch your step, Quistis. Gentlemen, be careful." Uzuki turned on the lamp and Elijah and I followed when he began to lead haltingly back into a rubble-strewn area.
The ceiling had dropped to about seven feet in height with a width of about six feet. It was enough to make me nervous, riling my instincts about being trapped should anything attack. There wouldn't be anywhere to go and little room to fight. After several minutes, we stopped abruptly when faced with the massive debris that could only have resulted from a cave-in. I groaned. It was going to be a bitch to get through.
"We're going to have to be cautious clearing this out," Uzuki said.
I suppressed a sarcastic snort. It sucks to be on your best behavior some times. "Do you know how far back it extends?" I asked.
"We tried to drill through and look, but after drilling about five feet, we knew we didn't have the right equipment to try and remove the debris or shore it up to ensure it didn't collapse again. We decided to wait for the next dig, but unfortunately our funding had been running a bit low, so we weren't able to return." Uzuki put a hand against the rocks and looked a bit dejected.
"Well, it's on Garden's tab now." I shrugged.
"You're awfully free with money that's not yours," snickered Quistis.
"Hey, I got you your cast saw for the clinic with money that wasn't mine and I didn't hear you complain." I rolled my eyes and grinned. It was amazing how quickly Quistis had warmed up to me once she had seen where my loyalties really were. I admired her quick wit and intelligence, and we worked well together.
I heard voices echoing behind us. I couldn't tell who it was, though.
"This way!" I called.
"Sheesh!" exclaimed Quistis, putting her hands to her ears. "Not so loud. I'll go deaf."
"Huh? What'd you say? I couldn't hear you." I cupped my hand to my ear and leaned closer to her.
"Oh shut up," she said, making a face and smacking me on the arm.
"Oww!" I rubbed my arm and looked hurt.
"Children, play nice," scolded Irvine as he walked in with Zell in tow.
"Isn't that supposed to be her line?" I asked, earning me another look from Quistis.
"So, why aren't you done clearing this out yet, Seifer?" asked Zell sarcastically.
"I was waiting for you to show up and help, Chicken." I grinned wickedly.
Zell dashed toward me in an attempt to exact vengeance but soon discovered that I was standing on a pile of rubble that required a more delicate stance. He went skidding forward and only managed to barely catch himself before tumbling headfirst into the wall. He turned and shot us a look that dared anyone to laugh. I never was one to resist a dare. Beside, there was no way I could not laugh at the sight of Zell flailing his arms to desperately maintain balance.
I nearly doubled over in laughter, and even Zell laughed good-naturedly at his own expense. It helped lift the tension that had been building. Everything was so serious now. It had been too long since that night at the beach. There was no telling when we might get another chance to laugh like this, and I think that was something we all knew. I didn't want the moment to pass before Quistis, Irvine, Zell and I truly appreciated it for what it was - a solidification of our long-strained family bond. Neither Uzuki nor Elijah seemed uncomfortable about our antics, but I think I caught a look of wistfulness in Elijah's eyes.
"Squall?" I heard the voice in the corridor, echoing off the metal plates that lined the Ragnarok's interior. I recognized the childish pitch as belonging to Selphie. There I was, in the room, on my knees, wearing a torn and bloodied shirt. I didn't need her to find me like this. It would spark too many questions I didn't want to, or couldn't, answer. I hastily removed my shirt, shoving it under the mattress. I then grabbed my jacket and put it on, zipping it up. I headed for the door just as it opened and Selphie walked in. She gave me a strange look, and then shook her head. "Honestly, Squall... zipping your jacket? You're insane. Do you know just how hot it is outside?"
I shrugged in response, as if I couldn't be bothered enough to notice something as insignificant as hundred degree temperatures and sweltering humidity. The sooner I found out what she wanted, the sooner I could get rid of the evidence and put on another shirt. I wouldn't admit it, but I was breaking a sweat just standing here. "What did you need, Selphie?" Some days, it paid to have an antisocial reputation, even among your closest friends.
For an instant, her brows knitted in displeasure at my response, but in true Selphie fashion, it was over before it began. "Everyone else has gone into the caves. I wanted to let you know that we were going to try and clear some things out before it got too late."
I nodded. "I'll be right out. Why don't you go on ahead and I'll catch up?"
Shrugging, she replied, "Okay. I'll see you outside. Or would it be inside? How do you classify a cave, anyway? Oh well," she waved a hand dismissively, "I guess it doesn't really matter, now does it?" I quirked an eyebrow and gave a little expression of ignorance. She turned and skipped out, like she was heading for the playground rather than a critical mission.
I unzipped my jacket as soon as the door closed. I looked down and put my hand over my chest, just to verify the solidity of my flesh. The feeling of my heartbeat and the warmth of my skin vaguely reassured me. Dropping the jacket to the floor, I dug through my bag for a clean shirt. Finding something suitably light for the weather, I slipped it on. I reached under the mattress and took out the shirt. Leaning over, I picked up my jacket and wrapped the shirt in it before stuffing them both in my bag. I'd take the shirt out the next time I went on rounds. Then I could bury it out in the sand, and nobody would ever be the wiser. No questions asked, no suspicious glances, no hushed conversations that ended abruptly when the subject happened to turn and face the conversers.
I began walking out when I realized that buttons were still scattered all over the floor. Seifer was observant, he would surely notice them if I left them. Stooping down, I picked them all up and dropped them in the corner of my bag. Satisfied that I had taken care of everything at last, I walked out of the room and headed off the Ragnarok.
"Don't you have room for the camera yet?" yelled Selphie.
"Why don't you come up here and work if you're so eager? I didn't see you begging to be first into the spooky dark room!" fired back Zell.
"Hey, I told you we should have just blown it open, but no, nobody listens to me!" Selphie giggled.
"That would be because your alternative would have brought this lovely cavern down around our ears, sweetie," countered Irvine.
"Bah, no sense of adventure in any of you, really." Selphie feigned a pout. "It's fun to blow stuff up. Haven't you ever tried it?"
"Frequently," I responded dryly.
"I said blow stuff up, not blow stuff, you pervert. Now, get back to work before I borrow Quisty's whip."
She's making jokes about my sex life and I'm the pervert? How did she figure that? "If you weren't sitting behind who knows how much Gil worth of equipment I'd chuck this rock in your direction, just so you know. If you move away from those monitors I may change my mind," I said as I heaved a rock that weighed at least fifty pounds off to the side. It hit with a bone jarring thunk and I heard the rocks around it shift.
Progress was excruciatingly slow, but I believed that we'd break a hole in the wall soon. There was a camera equipped with night vision equipment ready to go in once we got a small area open. The equipment would be used to get a quick look before we went charging in, or before we potentially let anything out. I heard the sound of footsteps walking down the corridor in between the sounds of rocks being tossed to the sides. Squall must be back from his rounds. He had been so distracted before he left, and it looked as if nothing had changed. I wished that he would tell me what was wrong, but every time I tried to broach the subject, he deflected it with that uncanny precision of his. I'd find myself on a completely different topic, stymied as to how he managed to avoid my question yet again.
I glanced up from my rhythm to smile at him when he walked in. He smiled back but even from where I stood, I could tell it didn't quite reach his eyes. He was smiling because he thought I expected him to. All sorts of little doubts began to plague my mind, even though I knew they were ridiculous. I must have been picking up some of Squall's habits, and over-analysis seemed to be one of them.
He walked over to me, but I could read stiffness in his posture, like a child being led to the Headmaster's office for an infraction. I started to frown, but quickly wiped the expression from my face. The last thing I needed was to blow up at him. All that would do is send him retreating. He was bad enough thinking I was oblivious to his state of mind. If he thought I suspected something, I knew he would close right up.
"Hey," I said softly, stopping my work temporarily. "How'd it go out there?"
He shrugged. "Hot. I got a couple Worms and about a half-dozen Cacuatars. There seem to be more Cacuatars out than there were earlier."
"Well, it is getting on toward dusk. It must be getting cooler out. The Abyss Worms are settling down for night, and the Cacuatars are coming out to play. Selphie said she came across a Blitz earlier. Seems to all be fairly routine." I watched him closely, waiting for him to divulge anything.
"Who's up next?" he asked.
My reply was broken off by the sound of Zell's whoop. "Yeah, baby!" he yelled, causing an echo that bounced off the walls and around in my skull. I turned to look at him and saw that he had been the one to break through the wall. Near the top was a fist-sized hole, just large enough for the camera to fit through. Selphie bounded up with the equipment. I had flashes of her falling straight on her ass and breaking the delicate equipment, but somehow she managed to make it to Zell intact.
"How about we hold off on sending anyone out until we get a chance to peek inside?" I knew if we sent anyone out now, they'd just be pissed that they missed the first look in.
Squall shrugged. "Sounds fine by me. We've got the perimeter alarms armed. Did anyone think to throw it over to the com frequency since we're back here?"
I nodded. "Elijah took care of it not long after we set up." I walked over to the monitors, Squall not far behind me. I wanted a good look inside. It didn't take more than ten minutes to get everything in place. Then we were all crowded around, waiting for Selphie to flip the switch. The first images were pitch-black. I felt my heart sink, wondering if the room was perhaps empty. Then I heard the remote terminal accessing something, and watched as the image filtering software took over. Slowly, blurry shapes began to render into more definable forms. Nothing seemed to be moving, which I took as a positive sign. The last thing I wanted was some fifteen hundred year old, extremely pissed, and hungry critter deciding that it didn't quite care for nosy people with cameras.
"Shit," whispered Elijah, in my ear. "Do you see it?"
See what? I was having a hard time distinguishing one green object from another. I shot him a perplexed look and he shot me back a look of exasperation.
"Right there. Wait until the camera pans back to the left. There," he whispered.
Looking closely, my mind strained to compare it with something I could identify. I had so many new thoughts and images crowding my brain that everything I saw on the monitor looked completely foreign. Then, suddenly, it clicked. If I let my mind fill in the details, I was staring at... the Sentinel. I cursed silently, knowing that I couldn't say anything while Uzuki was still in the middle of us. I had to fight the desire to blurt it out, nonetheless.
"So," I began, "how does it look to you, Squall? You think we'll be okay to head in?"
He nodded. "It seems to be in decent condition and I don't see any sign of life inside. I don't see any reason why we can't work on it, but it's getting late."
Zell agreed. "I don't think I could lift any more of those stupid rocks tonight. My muscles are screaming obscenities at me, and I don't think I like what I'm being called."
"Okay, we'll set up the alarms and try to get some sleep. We're going to be busting ass tomorrow," I said.
"Duh, you think?" asked Selphie.
"Shut up before I carry you out of here and stuff you in an Abyss Worm hole you little brat," I said, smirking in amusement.
"Gotta catch me first, and I'm faster than you are. You're getting pudgy around the middle, I think," she said, poking her index finger in my gut.
"I'll show you fast," I said. Quickly, I stooped, picked her up, and slung her over my shoulder, ignoring the deafening scream near my left ear while I carried her out.
He related to them so much better than I ever did. Like the breach in their friendship had been no more than a minor setback. Something forgotten in the space of an instant. In a way, I was a little jealous, even though I knew there was no reason for it. As I watched Seifer carry the protesting Selphie out over his shoulder, I forced a smile to my lips. Around me, everyone was laughing at their antics. I didn't want to seem too out of place. I lagged behind everyone, stopping at the entrance to arm the alarms that now lined the cave. If anything so much as sneezed inside, we should know.
I dreaded heading inside the Ragnarok to sleep. There was no way to hide from Seifer when I was going to be pressed up against him all night long. If I had to see that look in his eyes much more, my guilt might kill me. He tried to hide it from me, but I could read him better than he suspected. Every time he asked me what was wrong, I turned it aside. He's getting impatient. I guess he's afraid of scaring me off if he presses me for the truth. It seems that we were much more direct with each other when we weren't on intimate terms. Of course, we also used to beat the shit out of one another on a regular basis. Some things I didn't miss.
That horrid little voice in my subconscious kept nagging at me to tell him, to trust him. It wasn't that I didn't trust him, just that if anything was to happen and I was the cause, I couldn't live with myself after that. He wants to protect me from things. I guess in some way I feel the same. It just seems that recently, my problems seem to be much deeper than his. When it came to the entire Catalyst and Knight thing, we were in the same boat. Somewhere along the line, though, it appears I switched boats. I was alone on this one. The irony wasn't lost on me. I was now the one who's motivations were suspect. I didn't like the feeling, especially since I felt I couldn't even trust myself.
I desperately wished for some way to put the shattered pieces of my memory back together. Only then would I be able to formulate a plan.
I found myself standing outside our room. I pressed the door panel and it swung open. The lights were out, and I could hear the gentle sounds of Seifer's breathing. Quietly I stripped down and climbed into bed, trying not to wake him. It wasn't until I got underneath the covers that I discovered he was actually awake. He was turned on his side, his head propped up on his hand. I silently begged for a reprieve from what I knew was coming. I felt his hand on my chest and slowly, he raised it to my cheek, his thumb running across my lips. He had yet to say a word. It only made me feel worse. At least if he said something, anything, I could turn it around, change the subject, get upset, some reaction based on his actions. This, though, how could I combat this? How could I fight the sense of despair, concern, and uncertainty that radiated from him?
I moved my arm around his waist, my hand running across his back and down across his ass. I reached my other hand up to his, moving his palm to my lips, and kissing it softly. I moved my body closer, raising my head to kiss him. I felt despicable for using sex as a distraction. When my lips met his, I felt him stiffen, felt him distancing himself from my actions. Like he had that first night so long ago. It hurt, but I guess I had left him no other option. I broke the kiss, sighed silently, and rolled over, my back to him. He didn't try to pull me back. Tension hung heavy in the air, a barrier that we were both to proud to breach. Inside, I felt like I wanted to curl up and die for hurting him like this. What was the use in trying to protect him if all it did was push him away from me? The cost was too high either way. I hated feeling trapped like this. As I lay there, hating myself, I felt the cold splash of tears against my back.
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