Stitch In Time

Chapter Five

By Scarlet Fever


Seifer awoke, feeling strange, befuddled. His mind felt numb, but for a reason that he didn’t seem to be aware of. He slowly sat up, feeling stiff and slightly gross from sleeping in his clothes. He wrinkled his nose, shrugging out of his jacket.

"Where am I?" He asked himself as he took in his surroundings. He had never seen this room before. It was a bedroom, but it wasn’t his, and it wasn’t one he had ever been in before. He groaned, trying to think of what had occurred. Flashes of arguing with Zell passed through his mind, hearing Zell say that Seifer didn’t deserve sympathy.

"No, that was earlier…" Seifer whispered to himself. He then remembered barging into the Timber Television Station, taking the President hostage, Zell blurting out that they were from the Garden…

"Damn him," Seifer muttered, swinging his long legs over the edge of the mysterious bed. It looked very antique, it’s four posts carved in a Baroque looking style. Most of the room had the lavish, ornate Baroque feel. The wallpaper actually looked like it was put up in Victorian times. It was richly embossed, the forest green paper raised with small Fleur de Lis appliques. He ran his hand absently over the wall as he practically stumbled to a window. Seifer couldn’t figure out why he felt so exhausted, so sluggish. He looked out the window, hoping to recognize where he was. His lips parted in surprise when he saw the tall buildings and parade of cars that was Deling City. How had he gotten here? He looked across the scape of his view, the cars and windowed buildings catching the last of the sun’s rays. He could see that the sun was setting behind the cityscape. He had been asleep all day? It had been early morning when he was in Timber, and now it was evening?

"What’s going on?" Seifer whispered. His mind began to wander again as the cool dusk breeze came in through the open window, caressing the cinnabar coloured velvet drapes, kissing Seifer’s face, bare arms and shoulders, wiping away the last remnants of sleep. He slowed his thoughts down, trying to piece together all the jumbled images. One that stuck out was the look in Zell’s eyes when the small blonde had realized that he had blown it, revealed the Garden, and put it in danger. Even though Seifer was upset with Zell for his lack of thought, it hurt him to think of the pain in those icy eyes.

"How could you be so dumb…" Seifer whispered affectionately. No matter how angry he was with Zell, or how stupid the other blonde could get, or how much Zell had hurt him, his feelings seemed to remain unchanged. Even now, in all this confusion, the thought of Zell’s pale eyes lighting up when he smiled warmed Seifer’s cool body. He shook his head, remembering that he was supposed to be angry with Zell. He frowned, frustrated about not being able to remember anything. Plus, he didn’t know where he was…

"The raven woman…" He whispered, remembering the elaborate headdress, the pointed fan protruding from her shoulders, the almost ghastly mask that looked like the beak of a raven, her sensual, inviting voice. "Did she bring me here?" Seifer sighed angrily, feeling stupid for being drawn in with her. She must have done something to him…. And he was going to find out what. He spun on his heel, turning for the door, but stopped when he saw that he wasn’t alone.

"Feel better?" The woman asked, her voice clear. The headdress and the fan were unmistakable, and he knew it was the same woman whose soothing voice had made him lose the past few hours. She no longer was wearing the mask, and Seifer blinked as he looked into her face for the first time. Her flesh was extremely pale, even more so that Seifer’s, who had always been whiter than snow. She looked like she was in her mid to late thirties, a mature, beautiful woman. Seifer didn’t think that she was as attractive as Zell, but that was personal preference. Her small, pouty mouth was painted a dark colour that bordered between black and purple. She had strange looking vein-like things coming out from under the headdress, which totally obscured her hair. The greenish veins crept gently across her alabaster cheeks, making her look very alien and imposing. Her eyes, however, were what made her look so deadly. Seifer felt his body loose itself as he gazed in them. Her eyes were large, beautiful, and framed by lush, dark lashes that looked like they were made up, but it was hard to tell. The irises were an amber colour that was somewhat unnatural, glowing like yellow suns in the sockets. The gold was multifaceted, almost alive in itself, swirling gently, but not noticeably. The pupils of this woman’s eyes were almost reptilian looking, slits rather than discs. They looked like hourglasses, all creation and time passing through them.

Seifer looked around after snapping away from her gaze. He hadn’t heard her come in. Her footsteps must have been killed by the crimson and black Persian rug. "What am I doing here?"

"I brought you here," she answered simply.

Seifer looked at her, raising an eyebrow. He studied her face again. She looked very familiar to him, but he was sure he would have remembered someone who stuck out like a sore thumb. "And you are…?"

She laughed, which sounded like a cross between the ominous giant bells of an ornate cathedral and broken glass in her throat. It was soothing and unnerving at the same time. "Oh, how rude of me. I’m Sorceress Edea."

"Edea?" Seifer repeated. "You’re a sorceress?" He really wasn’t surprised. She carried such an aura around her.

"Yes," Edea replied. Her voice almost took on a hissing quality. "You’ve been sleeping since I brought you here. Good dreams, I hope?"

Seifer blushed. It felt like she was implying something, reading his mind. He crossed his arms over his broad chest, actually feeling violated. "Why did you bring me to Deling City? And what happened to the President?"

"So many questions, little one… I brought you to Deling because I need you."

Seifer’s eyebrows shot up. Even coming from a stranger, those words warmed him. Nobody had ever said that they had needed him. "Why?" He practically whispered.

Edea smiled softly. "I need a Knight, and you will suit the job perfectly…" She trailed off. Something about Seifer left a warm, maternal feeling in her heart that she hadn’t felt since….. Her mind stopped where it was, almost by force from somewhere else. She turned her attention back to the handsome blonde before her.

"Why me?"

"I choose it to be so."

Seifer snorted. "Count me out…"

Edea frowned. She needed him. She couldn’t question it, her…. "I don’t think you should refuse me. After all, I could turn you over to the Galbadian officials…"

Seifer narrowed his eyes. "Officials?"

"Yes. You did try to assassinate the President of Galbadia."

Seifer frowned. "How do I know you’re a better alternative?"

Edea laughed again, which caused Seifer to shiver. "You don’t, I guess."

Seifer picked up his coat. Sorceress or not, he had a bad feeling about this, and wanted nothing more than to leave Edea’s presence. "Look, I’m flattered, but I don’t think so…" He began to brush past the woman, who seemed so imposing, but whose height only reached up to his shoulder. She wasn’t even as tall as Zell. Seifer couldn’t help but slightly blush at the thought of the blonde who only that morning had caused him so much grief and heartache.

"But I need you. You can’t honestly say that anyone else needs you… Or wants you…" She trailed off, reaching into his mind with her powers.

Seifer gasped, feeling her psychic claws digging into his brain, his soul. It only lasted a moment, but the feeling of Edea in his mind, rifling through his emotions, his deepest feelings felt painful, disgusting. "How dare you…" Seifer whispered.

She smiled, a wholly wrathful grin. "I can’t believe you want to go back to people who would as soon spit on you than see your face," she whispered, placing a clawed hand on his bare shoulder. "That you would go back for more rejection…. He can’t give you what I can…"

Seifer glared at Edea. "Get your hands off me, you bitch."

Edea’s dark lip curled up in an angry sneer. "If you turn me down, they’ll execute you, you know?"

Seifer chuckled. "I think I’ll take my chances, Sorceress. Good day…" He trailed off, heading for the door.

Edea frowned again, her yellow eyes glowing wrathfully. She clenched her spindly, skeletal hand into a fist, determined. Seifer gasped, leaning against the door as he felt a pressure against his throat. He could feel his windpipe gently, slowly being crushed under an invisible invader. His rangy body slumped against the wooden door as his lungs burned for air.

"They’ll hang you. Is this what you actually want to feel, rather than the pride of being the Knight for the most powerful Sorceress in the world? The future ruler of all this….?" She aimlessly waved her unclenched hand around. "You’ll feel your last moments now, or at the gallows, and I promise you… If you leave, death at my hands will be far more painful."

Seifer tried to gasp, but his throat constricted painfully against the nonexistent noose around his neck. He fell on all fours on the floor in front of the dark woman, his arm brushing against the soft black velvet of her dress. His eyes rolled in the back of his head as he felt a wave of blackness passing over him.

"Oh, I forgot to mention… If you refuse me again, you will not only die begging at my feet, but before I end your life, I will show you the greatest suffering you could ever possibly endure." She smiled, watching as Seifer’s eyes closed again, his face becoming paler than even hers. "How do you think it would feel to watch the one you love most suffer?"

Through the soupy darkness that was threatening to engulf him, Seifer felt her reach into his mind again, feeding him subliminal flashes of horrid scenes, all of which involved the pain and suffering of Zell. Bloodied images of his beautiful face, stripped of all life, tugged at Seifer’s heart. He couldn’t risk letting her do those things to Zell. He gasped in submission.

"Good boy," Edea murmured, unclenching her fist.

Seifer gasped frantically for air, gulping it in greedily, his fingers kneading the tender flesh of his throat. The images that Edea had planted in his mind wouldn’t go away. Seifer closed his eyes, stupidly trying to stop them. He moaned painfully as he envisioned Zell’s broken body in his arms, the smaller man cursing Seifer with his last dying breaths. Angry tears escaped Seifer’s tightly shut eyes, dripping onto his gloved hands, and rolling, disappearing into the thick carpet.

"And don’t think of betraying me…" Edea trailed off, opening the door with telekinesis. "I can sense your thoughts. And I will know." She caught his eyes. "I’m sorry I had to hurt you. But bad children deserve to be punished."

Seifer moaned lowly in his throat, nodding in submission. Her voice was so soothing, familiar. He wished he knew where he had heard it before. He felt the warm velvet texture of her words surrounding him again, and he smiled up at her. Her eyes were so lovely… And she needed him. All images of Zell left his mind, until there was only Edea, only her safety, her duty to protect her. "Yes, Mistress."

She smiled at him, stroking his cheek with her open palm, wiping away his already drying tears. "Good boy. You can walk around as much as you wish. We’re at Deling’s residence. Don’t worry. As long as you’re under my protection, they cannot harm you, and Deling will answer to you…"

Seifer nodded, bowing his head from his crumpled position on the floor.

Edea sighed, a brief flicker of regret entering her mind. He looked so broken, at least for a moment. He would be strong and by her side, giving his life to protect her soon, but now, he was just like a child, so small, so fragile.

It’s beginning….

Edea nodded, leaving Seifer in his room, smiling at the cold, jagged voice that echoed in her ears. "Yes, it has begun."

The pebble that Zell had been kicking aimlessly drifted away from his foot, rolling under some foliage. After catching the train from Timber to the East Academy Station, they were walking through the forest that led to Galbadia Garden. Zell knew it was late, for the sun beams streaming through the overhanging foliage were becoming dimmer. He looked up as the party ahead of him stopped.

"We’re not too far from Galbadia Garden now," Quistis informed, kicking some dirt out of the treads of her boots.

"Heeey, I was just thinking…" Selphie trailed off, giving Zell a sympathetic gaze. "There might be some bad news from the Galbadian government. What if we get caught, and then get broadcast to the whole world…?!"

Zell paced nervously. "Whatever happens, happens!! Now, come on, let’s just keep going! I, I’m worried about Balamb Garden…. If anything happens to Garden, it’s all my fault…. I mean, I was the one who said that we were all from Garden. Do you think the President will retaliate on Garden?" Zell asked, turning to Squall. All this time, all he could think about was Deling’s threats. What if he did attack the Garden? They wouldn’t be expecting it, and if anyone got hurt, or worse, it would be all Zell’s fault. He also had time to stew over what Seifer had done. It made him almost blind with rage to think of Seifer barging in there. If it weren’t for him acting all stupid and arrogant, they wouldn’t have been in this mess. Zell couldn’t believe that he had thought pleasantly about that bastard!

Squall didn’t reply to Zell’s question right away. He was still slightly miffed at the small man, but it was nothing compared to the anger he felt fester whenever Rinoa would yammer at him, which was most of the time. "Maybe."

"… Figures.." Zell muttered.

Squall looked down, surprised, as Zell gripped his forearms, his hands almost squeezing painfully. He kept forgetting how strong Zell was.

"B-bu-but, we have a whole bunch of SeeDs at Balamb Garden! They wouldn’t lose to the Galbadian Army, would they?!" Zell asked, pleading with the stoic SeeD, his eyes watery from unshed tears of fright and shame.

The auburn haired SeeD looked into Zell’s large, child-like eyes, shrugging him off. "Depends how strong the army is." He replied coldly. He didn’t know how to respond to Zell’s emotions, so it was easier to ignore them.

"I know, but…" Zell slunk back in defeat, slumping down in the grass against a large rock.

"Squall!!" Rinoa exclaimed, putting her hands on her hips to show her displeasure. "Oh, you’re just a great leader, aren’t you?! Do you actually have fun acting so callous to your comrades??!"

Not this again… Squall mentally muttered. He scoffed, tuning out the raving girl. She growled low in her throat, smacking Squall heavily in the chest. "Zell just wants your support! You’re such a meanie!"

Squall almost laughed, but held it back. Who used meanie as an insult outside of an elementary school playground. I knew it was gonna be something like that….

Rinoa continued to glare him down, ranting on. "Any kind of encouragement will make…"

Squall sighed, content will arguing mentally with her. That’s just to ease your mind. Am I the only one who thinks that? No, I’m sure Seifer…

"Don’t you ever worry about or even think about the well-being of your comrades?!" Rinoa was furious now, more so at the fact that Squall just didn’t seem to give a fuck about anyone or anything other than himself.

I don’t believe in relying on others.

"Don’t you understand?!" The black-haired girl cried, hitting Squall in the chest again.


"Are you listening, Squall?!!"

Squall groaned, a sharp pain passing across his line of vision, radiating from behind his eyes. He held his head as it throbbed beyond painfully. …What the?! …This sensation….. He couldn’t finish his mental ramblings, and fainted.

Quistis groaned. "What’s going on?" She leaned her long body against a tree, feeling more than just faint.

"M-me too," Selphie stumbled to a clear area of the forest, curling up, wondering if they would see Sir Laguna again. She didn’t know what was going on, but at that point her tired mind didn’t care.

Rinoa looked around her, eyeing the comatose forms of Squall, Selphie and Quistis. "What’s going on?!"

"They’re going to the ‘dream world’ again…" Zell muttered, staring off into space.

Rinoa sighed, sitting on a rock across from him. "What’s the dream world?"

"I would tell you if I knew…"

"Look, Zell. It’s not your fault. It was an accident, and I know you don’t want to put the Garden into danger. Squall knows it, too. He’s just a bastard."

Zell sighed. "I hope you’re right."

"You know," Rinoa mused, feeling more open to talk now that it was just her and Zell, who gave off a friendly air. "I feel like I should know you…"

"What do you mean?" Zell asked dully, his brain flashing from fears of the Garden to mixed emotions about Seifer. He wondered if he should talk about the tall blonde to Rinoa. He shook his head, to angry with the man he had lost his virginity to. He didn’t want to talk or think about Seifer Almasy.

"Oh, there’s just something very familiar to me about you…"

"We’ve never met before, though."

Rinoa shook her head. "I know, I know." She pursed her heart-shaped lips in thought. "Ah!!! Now I remember. Seifer mentioned you."

Zell raised his eyebrows, surprised. "Seifer mentioned me?"

Rinoa nodded, surprised that Zell was so taken aback. "Yeah. You sound surprised about that. I thought that you guys were friends…"

"I wouldn’t call it that…" Zell muttered glumly, his anger festering in his chest cavity, mingling with the warmth of Seifer’s body under his, panting softly with the pleasure that Zell was infusing.

"Oh?" Rinoa raised her eyebrows in shock. "From what Seifer described, I figured you two were close."

"What did he say?"

She paused. "I don’t remember. He used to make fun of you. I didn’t think he meant it, though…"

"I bet he did mean it," Zell grumbled, his internal seething continuing. He looked up. "The sun’s disappearing…"

"What do they dream about?" Rinoa asked, looking over at the slumbering bodies.

"Some guy named Laguna. He’s a Galbadian Soldier. I don’t know if that’s what they’re dreaming about now, but that’s what we dreamed about before."

She cocked her head. "Sounds odd."

He nodded. "It is. I’m kinda glad that I’m not out this time…" Zell’s face fell further as he thought about Balamb Garden.

"Well, Quistis said that we aren’t that far away from Galbadia Garden, so we’ll find out soon."

"Yeah, if they wake up in time. It’s already night."

Rinoa yawned. "Yeah, I know."

"Rinoa?" Zell asked as she slumped against a rock.

"Uh?" She asked sleepily.

"How do you know Seifer?"

"Oh…" She trailed off, closing her dark eyes. "We used to date…"

Zell’s eyebrows shot up. "Really?!"

She nodded sleepily. "You don’t mind if I fall asleep, do you? If something happens, or you need help, wake me."

Zell was glad that the sleepy girl didn’t hear the slight croak in his voice, as she had already fallen asleep. She had probably been exhausted from fighting all day. He felt tired, but needed to stay up to keep watch for monsters, and he didn’t think he’d get much sleep anyway. His mind was reeling, almost painfully. Seifer and Rinoa had dated? But, Seifer had all but said he was homosexual…. And Rinoa was a girl. He wondered how long they had been a couple for. It couldn’t have been that long, or very meaningful, because Seifer had never even so much as mentioned the raven-haired girl in any capacity. Was Seifer the kind of person who would just fuck anyone? Was Zell just another notch on his belt?

Seifer…. Zell mentally whispered as he looked around the dark forest. The thought of their night together being cheap and meaningless to Seifer hurt the small blonde greatly. Well, Seifer had lied about being bisexual, at least, so he could have lied about so many other things, just to take advantage of Zell’s inebriated state. Zell paused his train of thought, trying to sift through his feelings rationally. Okay, if Seifer had dated her, that didn’t mean that he had fucked her. But Rinoa had seemed so eager whenever she talked about Seifer. What if there were still some lingering feelings? Zell had to repress the urge to shake answers from the girl across from him, grab her long blue sleeveless duster and make her take back that she had had her grimy hands on Seifer.

"What are you thinking?" Zell whispered, covering his face with his palms. How could he be jealous over Seifer? The man who had more than likely used him purely for sex, taken advantage of his drunkenness. He clenched his shaking hands into angry fists, his knuckles pressed to his now slightly sweaty brow. How could he have fallen for it? Seifer had probably planned this all along, to make an utter fool of Zell, to take something Zell could never get back and throw it in his face. Had the pain of Zell’s rejection in the sky of Seifer’s eyes been contrived? A sickening realization that he probably wouldn’t get the answers hit him. Seifer probably got caught by the Galbadian Army. For a moment, he wondered if Laguna and his cohorts had caught Seifer. Probably not. It would be too much of a coincidence.

Zell sighed, pressing his knees to his chest. His plummeting thoughts of Seifer were adding to his nervousness about the Garden. Why had he been so stupid.. On so many levels? He had opened his big mouth, again, without thinking, and look where it got him. He had also opened his heart to Seifer, and look what happened there. When was Zell going to grow up, and learn not to be so foolish? He sighed, shivering as the night air blew across the exposed flesh of his forearms and calves. His mind continued to wander in never ending circles of self-doubt, only interrupted when he noticed shards of buttery light passing through the thick leaves. It was morning. Zell yawned, his body stiff from being curled up all night. He ignored his fatigue, wanting to punish himself for his stupidity by not sleeping.

He looked over at Rinoa, frowning. He decided not to burden her with his feelings about Seifer. It wasn’t Rinoa’s fault that he had fallen for the sultry blonde’s false charms. She had probably done the same thing, and if that was the case, he didn’t want to reopen any closed wounds. He reached out, gently nudging her pale shoulder.

She murmured incoherently, slowly opening her eyes. "Oh… Zell. Is it morning?"

Zell nodded, stretching out his legs. "How did you sleep?"

She rubbed her eyes, clearing them of sleep. "Fine, considering I’m on the forest floor…" She rolled her eyes sarcastically. "Have Squall and the others woken up yet?"

Zell looked over. He had forgotten about the unconscious trio. They were all stationary, in the same positions as before. "Nope."

Rinoa stood, stretching her legs. "Ugh. I’m hungry…. Wonder if there’s any berries or anything here…."

"I wouldn’t eat anything here, if I were you. Unless you welcome either death or extreme stomach pains…"

"Oh, there must be something edible here." She looked over at the bushes.

Zell looked over, snickering. "You could eat some of those mushrooms.."

Rinoa scoffed. "I prefer to lick toads, thank you."

Zell laughed, for the first time in a while. He then became quiet again, his mind wandering back to the Garden. He stood up, wanting to walk the kinks out of his legs. He paced back and forth, waiting for anything to happen. He sighed, still angry with his multitude of stupid mistakes.

"Zell, don’t get so down on yourself!" Rinoa exclaimed, patting his shoulder. She was quite cheery for someone who had to sleep in the forest. They both looked up as they heard Selphie moan, coming out of her comatose state.

Rinoa ran over to Squall, who was also beginning to stir. She watched as his stormy eyes opened, smiling when his gaze met hers. For such a prick, he sure was cute. "Awake, at last…" She winked, offering her hand to help him up.

He refused her hand, standing on his own on shaky legs. "How long were we asleep?"

"All night…" Zell answered dully. "Was it Laguna again?"

Selphie sat up. "Sir Laguna’s in big trouble! I hope he’ll be okay!!" Selphie exclaimed.

Quistis moaned, leaning on a tree as she rose to her feet. She brushed a leaf out of her flaxen hair. "What the fuck just happened? Doesn’t seem like the first time for you all. What is this?"

Squall sighed. "We’d just be wasting our time trying to figure it out. Let’s keep going." He sighed, rubbing the spot between his eyes where Seifer had marred him. If he were the only one who had been experiencing it, he would have passed it off as a crazy dream, but he wasn’t. He shook his head. He didn’t want to think about things that were out of his control. He wanted to get to Galbadia Garden, not sit here and waste time trying to explain matters out of his scope of reasoning.

"The first time?" The former Instructor asked. She crossed her arms over the front of her pink shirt.

Zell nodded, standing. "Yeah, let’s go! I think we’re almost there." He desperately wanted to get to their destination, to make sure his slip of the tongue hadn’t caused anyone to lose their life… He followed gloomily behind the rest of the party. Rinoa was trying to chat with Squall, who was totally ignoring her.

"Squall," Rinoa began. "I think I said too much earlier…. I’m sorry…."

"Forget about it," Squall shrugged. He didn’t feel like talking to the chatty girl anymore.

"Zell?" Quistis asked softly.

"Oh?!" Zell practically jumped out of his skin. He hadn’t noticed that Selphie and Quistis had stopped to walk alongside him. "You scared me, Instructor!"

Quistis smiled sadly. "I’m not your Instructor anymore. Just Quistis is fine."

Selphie used a small hand to pat Zell’s back. "The Garden will be fine," she murmured soothingly.

The martial artist nodded dully, his mind whirling a mile a minute.

"There’s something else bothering you, isn’t there?" Quistis asked gently.

"I don’t want to talk about it!" Zell practically snapped.

Selphie raised her arched eyebrows. "It’s gotta be something to get you all in a tizzy. We’re your friends…"

Zell sighed. "I’m sorry. It’s just me….. Never mind…." He didn’t want to talk about Seifer, because he was afraid he would break down, and he didn’t want to expose to anyone, not even himself, how much the thought of Seifer using him in such a manner had affected him.

"We won’t push you," Quistis assured, looking ahead to Squall and Rinoa. "She seems nice."

Selphie giggled. "Yeah. She’s already trying to get her hooks into Squall…"

The stoic SeeD turned when he heard his name, shooting Selphie an exasperated look. Rinoa’s chatter was beginning to annoy him.

Zell sighed angrily, a brief flash of Seifer’s fingers in her dark hair, his soft, delicious mouth on hers passing through his mind. He frowned, cursing himself inwardly for thinking about Seifer again, how good his lying, deceitful mouth had felt, how gentle his hands had been…. No!! Zell raged internally. He clenched his fists, wishing to drive away any memory of Seifer’s taste, the way he felt, how beautiful he had looked when he smiled.

"Are you sure you’re okay?!" Selphie asked, noticing her friend’s obvious distress.

"I’m fine…" Zell trailed off, studying the toes of his red sneakers. Fuck you, Seifer.

"Oh, we’re almost there!" Quistis exclaimed, rushing up to talk to Squall.

Selphie sighed, feeling bad for Zell. She knew it couldn’t be good to bottle up such obvious volatile feelings, but she also didn’t want to push her blonde friend. She sighed again, looking up at the large, looming Galbadia Garden. It was larger than Balamb, and also more ominous. The air actually seemed heavier around the building. It was the colour of blood, a stern looking crimson that Selphie found to be cold. Red was usually such a warm colour. As the walked up to the front gates, Selphie noticed that the students were as stern and cool as their school seemed to be, their faces as bleached and stiff as the plain gray uniforms they wore.

"Wow, it’s completely different," Selphie mused, gawking at the barren surroundings.

"Sure is quiet," Zell whispered, not really caring.

"I like it," Squall stated. This place was more his style.

Zell barely looked around him. He noted that the Garden had much more of an authoritative feel, cold and sterile like the army itself, but his mind was too occupied at the moment. He followed the rest of his companions up the stairs. "Where are we going?" He asked of Selphie, none of his usual cheeriness present in his gravel voice.

"Up to a waiting room," she whispered. "God, Quistis just said that. You must really be out of it. You’ll feel better if you talk about it…"

Zell sighed. "Maybe later."

She nodded, feeling gratified in that. Selphie ushered Zell into the waiting room ahead of her, sitting on a loveseat beside Rinoa, who seemed thoughtful. Quistis had gone to explain their situation to the Headmaster, so now they were just waiting for her to return.

"I wonder if they have a Garden Festival Committee here, too," Selphie wondered. She wanted to try and keep things lighthearted, and bolster the gloomy moods of the people surrounding her.

"So, how long are they going to make us wait?" Zell asked impatiently.

"So, Quistis attended classes here?" Rinoa mused. She could imagine the sophisticated blonde flourishing in this sort of atmosphere. Perhaps that’s why she was a teacher already. The thought of that made Rinoa wonder what direction her own life was taking. Quistis was only a year older than her, but she had already accomplished so much in her short life. She had goals, ambitions, much like Seifer had. And what had Rinoa done? Sure, she was trying to get the President ousted, but all her attempts had failed miserably. In her mind, she was replaying all the things Squall had said to her about her unprofessional attitude. Was she unprofessional, childish? Rinoa sighed, wiping lint off her black tank top. Why did Squall’s opinion of her matter so much?

They all looked up as Quistis entered the room on quiet feet. Her face didn’t really give away much. There was relief, but something else hidden in her smart, endless sapphire eyes. She slumped down on the couch beside Zell.

"How’d it go?" Squall asked tentatively. He could tell that Quistis was slightly troubled. She seemed in good spirits, for the most part, so he was expecting good news, but he wanted to know what was under the surface, causing a shadow to pass across her eyes.

"They understood our situation," Quistis began, meeting the eyes of all in the room. "And Balamb Garden is safe."

Zell sighed in obvious relief, his face washed over with it. Selphie frowned, noticing that Zell still looked deeply troubled about something.

Quistis cleared her throat, continuing, her silky voice becoming more hushed. "The attack on the President in Timber was classified as an independent action. There was an official notice from the Galbadian government saying that Balamb Garden is not being held responsible." She sighed as she finished informing her teammates.

Zell slowly raised his head. "So, Seifer’s taking all the blame?" He bit his lip, almost dreading the answer. He could feel the rage he felt towards Seifer boiling in his blood. How dare Seifer make Zell worry so much about the Garden, making Zell feel responsible when it was all Seifer’s fault to begin with! How dare Seifer do this to him, on top of everything else!

Quistis sighed shakily, reading to deliver the bad news. "The trial’s over, and the sentence has already been carried out…" She trailed off, letting the group draw their own conclusions.

"…He was executed?" Rinoa asked, more to herself than to anyone. Guilt gnawed at her heart. She was the one who had gotten Seifer involved in all this, the one who had to bring him back into her fold after they had parted ways. She felt responsible in his death. "…Of course he was. He attacked the President." Rinoa felt a lump growing in her throat. "He sacrificed himself for the Forest Owls…" She trailed off, mourning the loss of the man whom she had been so close to at one point in her life, her would-be first true love. It hadn’t worked out that way, but she still had a bright spot in her heart for Seifer, a spot that was not clouded over by regret and guilt.

"It was your group that got Seifer involved in all this?" Quistis asked, turning to the dark-haired Rinoa. "You’re a resistance faction, right? You must have been prepared for the worst. I’m sure Seifer was prepared, too." Quistis knew her words weren’t much comfort, but they comforted her in a strange way. "So, don’t think of it as Seifer sacrificing himself for you… I’m sorry. I guess that wasn’t much consolation," Quistis replied, voicing her own mental concerns about not helping ease the grief Rinoa probably felt.

Selphie turned to Zell, looking at his face, which seemed blank. Maybe what Seifer had done, making Zell have to worry about the Garden, was what was bothering him. She tentatively placed a small, pale had on his shoulder. "You really hated Seifer, didn’t you, Zell?"

Zell turned to her, surprised by her question. All he could feel was the anger running in his blood. "Yeah, but…" Zell trailed off, immediately regretting saying that he hated Seifer. "He was from Garden… He was one of us. If I can, I wanna get revenge…" Zell trailed off again, his lie tasting like ashes in his mouth. He wondered if anyone bought that lame line about wanting to avenge Seifer’s death simply because he was from Garden. He sighed, knowing that the last thoughts of Seifer Zell had felt during the taller man’s life had been of anger and hatred, when it could have been gentle, loving, pleasant. He sighed, looking down at his tightly clenched fists in his lap. The studs on the knuckles of his gloves were digging painfully into his palms, almost drawing blood.

"Kinda sad…" Selphie muttered. It seemed that Rinoa was the only one who was actually sorry to see Seifer gone. Selphie had wanted to make friends with the handsome, hot-tempered Seifer, but she figured she now had run out of time. Nobody deserved to have their lives ended this way…

"I didn’t like the guy," Zell whispered, trying to soften the fact that he had admitted to hating Seifer, wanting to soothe the sting that his own words had left in his heart. "But, executed….?" He had to bite his lip to prevent a moan from escaping his lips. Seifer had hurt him so much, but that past pain didn’t really compare to the knowledge that Seifer was dead… That he wouldn’t ever scowl at Zell again as they passed in the hallway, Zell wouldn’t ever hear anyone call him ‘Chicken-Wuss’ again, he wouldn’t taste Seifer’s surprisingly soft and gentle mouth again…. "That…..bastard…." Zell whispered affectionately, meaning it as a gentle tease in Seifer’s memory, and a curse against the President, who had probably smiled while Seifer died. Zell wondered how his one time lover had in fact been executed. Probably hanged. He pictured the cruel, harsh rope would so tightly around Seifer’s pale, elegant neck that it caused his handsome face to become white, dead.

"I don’t have any good memories of him," Quistis began, feeling a dull sense of loss in her chest. "I’ve seen some troubled children, but he was beyond troubled. Well, he wasn’t really a bad guy…" The former Instructor trailed off, turning her head away from everyone, not wanting them to see her faint blush. She had never revealed the fact that she had felt some deep rooted feelings for the tall blonde, even though he had never seemed to show any interest in her, or any woman for that matter. To know that her delicate feelings that resembled a schoolgirl crush were to be squashed before they could ever be explored was sort of sad. "Seifer, never to become a SeeD," she mused, her thoughts always returning to work and duty.

"I… Really liked him," Rinoa mused, saddened. Her past memories of Seifer were comforting her, though. "He was always full of confidence, smart…"

Zell looked up at Rinoa, her kind words about Seifer loosening him from the dull ache that was settling over his chest. The fact that they now always had to talk about Seifer in past tense hadn’t hit Zell yet, and he didn’t know how he would exactly feel when it ran into him, the knowledge that Seifer was dead and gone, never to return.

Rinoa continued. "Just by talking to him, I felt like I could take on the world."

"Your boyfriend?" Selphie asked, surprised. The stoic Seifer, and this youthful, happy-go-lucky, almost childish girl, had been a couple? Selphie frowned. She wondered if she was considered happy-go-lucky and almost childish. If that’s the way people saw her, would she have had a chance to warm Seifer’s icy heart?

"I don’t really know," Rinoa answered, pulling her knees up to her chest. "I…I think I was in love. I wonder how he felt…?"

Zell had to close his eyes and look away. So, Rinoa and Seifer hadn’t had just an innocent relationship. It didn’t surprise him, however, that Rinoa hadn’t known how Seifer had truly felt about her. Did anyone actually know how Seifer ever felt? For a brief, euphoric moment, Zell had thought he had known, but that was probably just a lie, too, just like everything else Seifer had ever told him.

"Do you still like him?" Selphie asked, immediately regretting the words that fell from her small mouth. She was probably rubbing salt in Rinoa’s wounds.

"If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be talking about it," Rinoa answered simply.

Zell felt his heart constrict. He wondered if Seifer had had residual feelings all along. Zell had to use all his restraint to hold back angry tears.

"It was last summer…" Rinoa trailed off, a wistful smile passing her lips. "I was sixteen. Lots of fond memories…"

Zell wondered if fond memories meant a train of thought on the same track as his own. He wondered if Seifer had taken Rinoa’s virginity as well, wondered if he had made her feel as special as he had made Zell feel in their embrace.

Squall crossed his arms over his chest, their words replaying in his head. I liked him… Wasn’t really a bad guy….. He was one of us….

Seifer, you’ve become just a memory, Squall mentally whispered, wondering if what they said about Heaven and Hell was true, if Seifer could be watching over them now, or was he just dead, his body laying cold on a slab in some dingy basement morgue. To Squall, that didn’t seem fitting of his rival at all. They may have had their differences, but he had always respected Seifer. Will they… Will they talk about me this way if I die, too? Squall shook his head. He didn’t like thinking about his own mortality, but now the subject had been brought up, and his brooding mind was beginning to take over.

Squall was this and that, he mentally projected. Using past tense, saying whatever they want? So, this is what death is all about…. Not for me. I won’t have it!

"Squall, what’s wrong?" Quistis asked, knowing that her former student was upset. She could see the storm in his aquatic eyes.

"I won’t have it!" Squall exclaimed passionately, surprising his companions.

"Wh, What?" Zell asked, snapped back to reality by Squall’s outburst. What was he talking about?

"Are you mad?" Selphie asked, her heart still beating quickly, her body still on edge after Squall’s verbal explosion.

"I’m not having anyone talk about me in past tense!" Squall exclaimed angrily, storming out of the room.

They all just looked at each other. "What was that about?" Rinoa asked.

"Squall’s a very… Introverted person. Who knows." Quistis frowned, looking over at Zell. He had barely moved, and was acting like a zombie. The relief about Garden probably hadn’t hit him yet. She stood. "We should probably get going. The Headmaster of this Garden has to talk to us…."

"Attention," a nasally voice wailed over the intercom. "SeeD party from Balamb Garden: Please assemble at the Front Gate."

"Okay," Quistis said, trying to be cheerful. The look on Zell’s face didn’t sit well with her. She hoped the bouncy youth was okay. "I’ll find Squall. You guys go to the Front Gate."

Selphie and Rinoa nodded. Zell just stood, fists still clenched. He dumbly followed the two girls to the gate, the warm afternoon sun doing nothing to warm his cold body. What was wrong with him? He was letting Seifer get to him, yet again! Even in death, the tall blonde knew how to turn Zell’s crank. Zell actually visibly flinched, feeling terrible for thinking such things about Seifer. Then, his guilt was replaced by anger. He wasn’t going to let Seifer get to him like this! He tried to push the images of Seifer’s nude body sleeping next to him out of his mind, tried to forget how soft, how warm his flesh had been, how happy Seifer had seemed in his arms, how happy he had felt in Seifer’s embrace. The ghostly thoughts flittered in his head like translucent butterflies, their wings fragile and delicate. Each image was losing some of its crispness, and Zell was finding it harder to remember every vivid detail, some of the clarity dying along with Seifer….

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