Stitch In Time

Chapter Fifteen

By Scarlet Fever

Zell felt out of it as he followed Squall and Selphie up an empty stairwell of Galbadia Garden. So much had happened to them in the past couple of days, and Zell’s mind was reeling from it all. Finding out that he was adopted, and that his mother wasn’t his real mother had been hard to deal with. He couldn’t believe all those rumors about GF use affecting memory could be true. Squall had been right, though. They were indebted to the power of the GF, and Zell himself could have sworn that he had heard the ghostly voices of the powers he had junctioned in his head, that he could hear the voices of Diablos, Ifrit and Siren in his mind. He wanted to concentrate on their mission, for he knew that they were going to face Seifer.

Can I face him? I should have told Squall to take someone else….. He looked up as he felt a gaze on him. Selphie was looking at him, concern all over her cute face.

Selphie knew that this was eating up Zell. She was totally surprised that Squall couldn’t notice the duress that Zell was under, but then again, Squall didn’t notice much outside his own little world. Well, that was sort of changing. Selphie had noticed his icy exterior cracking around Rinoa. Selphie herself actually felt sort of out of it after finding out about their past and all. Poor Irvine… To be the only one who could remember the Orphanage. It sort of disturbed the small brunette that she could forget so much, but she decided to put it out of her mind. She wondered if Zell could do the same thing. He now knew that he had grown up with Seifer, and he must have been going crazy knowing that they would have to fight him. Selphie also felt sort of bad about fighting Seifer. She felt bad for him in general, but didn’t want to openly show it, for the others were beyond angry with him for having the Galbadian troops attack Balamb Garden. Had he really gone so cold?

"Zell?" Selphie whispered.

He cocked his head up, his mixed thoughts about Seifer interrupted by Selphie’s gentle voice. One moment, Zell wanted to kick the shit out of Seifer for attacking Garden with all those troops. Luckily, nobody had been killed, but still…. What if Seifer's actions had cost someone their life? On the other hand, he wanted to take Seifer away from all this, forget about the rest of the world, and fuck like mad. Zell didn’t even know that Seifer felt that way anymore. Maybe his feelings towards Zell had been extinguished in his new existence. Squall had thought that Seifer felt he couldn’t back away now, that there was nowhere left to turn. Was desperation making his lover do this?

"Are you okay with this?!" Selphie whispered in his ear. She was very concerned about Zell. Feelings of love were very delicate, and she didn’t want to see them crushed before Zell’s eyes. Seifer probably wasn’t the same anymore. He probably wasn’t Zell’s Seifer, and was more likely someone that Edea had created in the image of what she wanted. Edea…. Selphie sighed, sadly thinking about their former Matron. Squall had told them to put it out of their minds, that she wasn’t the kind Matron from their childhood. Was that the same with Seifer?

Zell nodded, balling his hands into fists. "What Seifer's done is inexcusable. No matter what I feel, this has to be done…."

Selphie tilted her head, feeling that Zell was trying desperately to convince himself with his words. She sighed, remaining silent. As they climbed the stairs, they noticed Fujin and Raijin, standing in the hall beside the stairwell. The trio approached slowly, preparing for a battle with the former Garden students. Seifer's friends remained stationary, though, looking over at them wearily. Zell could see the conflict in their eyes.

Raijin sighed, looking over at his companion, his heart dulling at the weary, tired look in her crimson eye. "Let’s just go…. Let’s just get it over with, ya know?!" The past couple of days had been extremely hard. The Galbadian Army, led by them, had had no luck finding Ellone, and Fujin and Raijin were being held totally responsible in the eyes of Seifer and Edea. Seifer…. He had become a monster. The day of Fujin and Raijin’s first kiss had been the last day that Seifer as they knew him seemed to exist. There would be the occasional flashes of his usual self, but it was few and far between. Now, all Seifer was to them was a boss, almost a dictator. He controlled the Army with an Iron fist, and the cruel look in his eyes never seemed to wean. Both Raijin and Fujin had noticed that Edea seemed lost, like she was waking up from a sleep. What was happening to her? Was the force that was controlling her moving to Seifer?

Fujin looked over to Squall, Selphie and Zell, sadness written all over her face. ".. REQUEST."

"… We’re leaving Seifer up to you now, ya know?!" Raijin sighed, defeated. They weren’t going to give up on their friend, but maybe Squall could have better luck. Maybe Zell could reach him. All of Seifer's feelings couldn’t have died, and Raijin thought that seeing Zell could trigger something. It was just so strange that Seifer had changed so much in the span of a couple of days. It was almost like he was possessed. "We don’t know what’s going on anymore, ya know?!"

Squall’s eyebrows raised slightly at the sheer defeat echoing in Raijin’s usually bellowing, confident voice. What had happened to make even Raijin and Fujin give up on their friend? Seifer… He probably thinks he can’t go back now…. "All right," Squall conceded, feeling badly for them. Fujin and Raijin looked so defeated, decimated, and it was sad.

Fujin sighed. "…FATIGUED."

Squall nodded, quickly heading to the elevator. He wanted to get this over and done, to stop the Galbadian invasion on Balamb Garden. As the trio walked, Zell turned slightly, looking at Seifer's companions. He gave them a small smile before trotting after Squall and Selphie.

"If Fujin and Raijin have given up on Seifer, it must be pretty bad…" Selphie mused, fidgeting with the small chain around her neck as the elevator slowly ascended. "Do you think that Matron really has that much power?"

Zell shrugged, looking down at his crimson sneakers. He began to think that it wouldn’t really be Seifer that they were seeing, that it was just a cold machine, created by Matron, and using Seifer's body. He clenched his fists tighter. He would fight Seifer if he had to, anything to make the taller man see the error of what he was doing. The elevator stopped, and Zell heard Selphie take her breath in sharply, preparing herself for battle. The two of them slowly followed Squall out of the elevator.

"Well, well, well…."

They all looked up at the sound of Seifer's voice. He was standing in front of an ornate throne. Edea was watching them like a cat would watch a canary. Zell’s eyes remained on Seifer, his gaze meeting his lover’s. It didn’t really feel like Seifer that he was looking at. The eyes seemed so distant, so alien, and the hardened mask of hatred contorted Seifer's beautiful face into a mask that was only an imitation of the real thing.

"Oh, you guys shouldn’t have….." Seifer trailed off, his voice sounding melodic. He laughed, and it sounded like broken glass in his throat, the shards cutting straight through Zell’s heart. "I was gonna come visit you at my old home."

"Shut the fuck up!" Squall cried angrily. The malicious look in Seifer's eyes enraged Squall. How could Seifer have done this? It was so beneath him.

"Did you guys come to fight Matron?" He purred, looking back at Edea. "After all she’s done for us?"

Zell shook his head angrily. So, Seifer knew about the Orphanage, about Matron. Zell had also remembered Seifer constantly teasing him when they had been children. Zell should have hated him, but he found that he had never really hated him. Seifer had always seemed so sad and tragic, using his anger as a wall to prevent anyone from getting too close. Well, that had been his Seifer, the real Seifer, not this fake, this horrible imitation.

"Selphie, right?" Seifer asked, without sincerity. "I wish we had time to get to know each other…."

Selphie frowned, her jade eyes glowing angrily. She had barely known Seifer, but the impressions that she had gotten from him from their mission in Dollet weren’t reflected here at all. The horrible look in Seifer's eyes left her blood boiling. "Nahhh, you’re not my type," she replied, the flippant tone in her voice masking the betrayal she felt. How could Seifer let this happen to himself, to Garden, to Zell? Or did he even know what was right and wrong anymore? Did he know what his actions were doing to the people around him, to himself?

Seifer's wintry gaze landed on Zell. The tattooed blonde noticed a flicker of warmth, of knowing and recognition. A small smile played on Seifer's lips, and Zell could tell that it was genuine. The gentle smile hardened into an angry smirk. "Hey, Chicken-Wuss. A lot’s happened between us, eh?" His lips curled up into a knowing smirk that left Zell feeling dirty.

"Yeah," Zell muttered, clenching his fists. He let the memory of that brief smile burn into his memory, a brief flicker in time when Seifer showed himself. He glared at Seifer now. "I’m dying to get even."

"It’s too late, Seifer." Squall pulled out his gunblade. "You can’t mess with our minds! To us, you’re just another enemy," he muttered. Squall wondered why it was so hard to say that. Deep down, he knew, but he didn’t want to admit it. He admired Seifer. He had always admired him, and now, he was just a lapdog, doing things that he would have normally turned his nose up at as being weak. "Like one of those Monsters."

Seifer looked at Squall angrily, his gaze snapping away from Zell. "You’re komparing ME to one of them?!" The cold glare practically burned through Squall, who furrowed his brow at the slight change in Seifer's dialect. "I’m no Monster. I’m the Sorceress’s Knight. And look at you." He gestured with an elegant arm. "Attacking like a swarm. You guys are the Monsters." Seifer then pulled out the Hyperion, advancing on them. "Let’s go after them Monsters…." Seifer cackled, sounding so cold, so angry. He made a swipe at Squall, cutting the SeeD with his blade.

Squall groaned, and countered the attack. When Zell’s turn to attack came, he decided to draw Magic from Seifer, not able to strike him, despite what he seemed to be.

"Show me what you’ve got!" Seifer taunted, directing his words at Squall. "I’ll show you who’s the better man!"

Squall growled and sliced at Seifer's body. Instead of attacking against Squall again, Seifer quickly hit Zell. The smaller blonde gasped. Through their entire lives, Seifer may have bullied Zell, but he had never struck him, not until this moment. Zell felt a surge of anger rush through him, and he unleashed a combination hit on his lover. Seifer hit me….. He actually hit me.

"Is that all you’ve got?" Seifer asked, laughingly. "I kan’t be beaten."

Zell glared as he heard the dialect change, as well. What was going on? He again unleashed a combination on Seifer, which sent the ‘Knight’ to his knees.

"This can’t be…. Why?" Seifer asked, more of himself than to them. His voice sounded small, more like his old self. The fallen man looked over to Edea who was now standing beside him.

She glared down at Seifer, who was looking at her with large eyes, failure written all over his face. She sent a surge of unseen Magic through his system. "Worthless Child."

Seifer nodded in defeat, collapsing on the cold ground. He had failed, again. He had promised himself, promised Matron, promised Ultimecia that he wouldn’t fail again, and he did. Matron was right, he was useless. The past couple of days had shown him that. He had spent that time in his quarters, plagued by images fed to him by the absentee invader of his mind. Ultimecia would show him just how horrible he was, things that he hadn’t remembered. At first, he passed them off as illusions, but the more he saw the way he had been leading his life, the more he heard what people said behind his back, what they really thought of him, the more he began to believe her. Ultimecia was actually his true Mistress, not Matron. Matron was just a puppet, one that was old and useless. Seifer was the future. But, Edea would have to get rid of the SeeDs, it would be her last use.

Seifer sighed, feeling his vision go hazy. What had he done? He had attacked Zell, his lover. Did he actually think that Zell would think of him that way again after what he had done? Zell must have hated him, and rightfully so. Through the haze of his vision, he saw Edea disappear through the floor. She must have now been in the Auditorium, which was below them.

.. The Auditorium is right below us…. Squall looked over to Seifer, who’s body seemed to be shaking.

Seifer felt cold. Ultimecia must have concentrated on Edea for the battle, and left him. This was the first time in the past forty-eight hours that he hadn’t felt Ultimecia around him, within him, and it left him with only himself, or what was left of himself. He felt sick, sad, mournful, afraid, regretful, guilty all at once. He saw Zell’s crimson sneakers in his line of vision. Zell was standing beside him. "There’s no way you guys can’t beat her…." Seifer trailed off, closing his eyes.

Squall turned away, heading for the save point. Selphie looked at Zell, and nodded. She went over, following Squall, giving Zell a few seconds alone with the fallen Seifer.

"You…guys can’t… beat… her…." Seifer repeated, his voice sounding labored.

Zell kneeled down, inspecting Seifer, seeing if he would get up to attack them. "Seifer….." He whispered.

"Come on," Squall commanded, heading for the elevator.

Zell nodded. Before he stood, he leaned in, whispering in Seifer's ear. "I know you’re still in there somewhere." After he said this, he jogged after Squall and Selphie to the elevator.

Seifer shivered, but not from the cold. The feel of Zell’s breath against his ear left a tingle over his body. For a moment, he wished he would die, be spared from this whole thing, with the memory of Zell’s breath on his skin. A cool breeze that could have only been Magic based replaced the warm shiver.

Kome to me, my Knight…..

Squall looked around the empty Auditorium, confused. Edea was nowhere to be seen. ….? What’s going on? Before Squall could vocalize his confusion, a loud crash caused him to look up in surprise. Edea had been waiting for them, and had come crashing in through the ceiling. She actually landed gracefully on the podium before them.

"So, the time has come," Edea murmured, glaring down at Squall. "You’re the legendary SeeD destined to face me?"

What the fuck is she talking about? Squall asked in his head, staring up at his former Matron, confused.

"I must say that I’m impressed," Edea continued. She smirked at him. "… An impressive nuisance. Your life ends here, SeeD."

Before Selphie, Zell and Squall could advance, Seifer came between them and Edea. He was supporting his weight on his gunblade, but the wrathful glare in his eyes was stronger than ever.

"Worthless fool," Edea muttered, the tone of her voice leaving Zell’s heart breaking for Seifer. What was worse was the agreement in Seifer's eyes at her insult.

You’re not our Matron! Squall inwardly exclaimed, seeing the dejected look in Seifer's eyes. What had she done to him.

"All SeeDs must perish!" Edea cried angrily, glaring at Seifer.

Seifer slashed out at Squall, his movements surprisingly fast considering how injured he was. He growled low in his throat. "I’m the Sorceress’s Knight. You’ll never…. Get past… me…." He again attacked them, his moves much stronger than they had been only a few moments ago. "I can’t afford to lose….." Seifer trailed off, sounding desperate.

It didn’t take much for the trio to defeat him, for he was already injured. One final blow from Selphie’s nunchuku did him in.

Seifer let out a strangled cry of defeat. "… Fuck, I’m disgraced."

Edea glowered at him, backhanding him across the face. "Defeated… Useless fool." She slapped him again, sending him sprawling on the ground at her feet. She then turned to Squall, Selphie and Zell. "Enough play. SeeDs must die."

Zell bared his teeth in a sneer, balling his fists in rage. How dare she treat Seifer like that, like a failure, when she was the one who created what he was! He immediately attacked her with viciousness that left Squall surprised. He decided to use Zell’s anger to its full capacity, and cast Haste on the infuriated blonde. Selphie bit her lip, casting full cure on them after a devastating round of Maelstrom from Edea. She knew why Zell was so angry. She also couldn’t get the scared, defeated look on Seifer's face out of her mind.

Edea gasped in defeat, a shocked look on her face as a last hit from Zell’s fist ended her battle against them. She would have said something, but her throat felt like it was paralyzed. She suddenly felt like vomiting up everything she had ever eaten, and her muscles, her bones, screamed out for air, for release. A pink light was emerging from her body. At first, it was as dim as a faint blush, but then it turned into a fiery fuchsia, burning into their retinas.

They all made reflexive moves to shade their eyes from the burning light, but found that their bodies were made immobile. Zell noticed that Seifer collapsed, his body limp like a rag doll. He wanted to run over, to bring Seifer with them, away from this woman who used to be their protector, their Matron. Zell felt cold, like he had in his dream when Seifer had gone with that strange winged woman. Thinking about it now, the Auditorium that they were standing in reminded the small SeeD a lot of his dream, which unnerved him greatly.

What… happened? Squall asked himself, feeling totally useless. My….Body…. All his mental words stopped when he saw movement. It was Rinoa. She was moving towards Seifer's collapsed form, her body moving almost unnaturally, like she was a stiff wooden puppet. Her body kneeled beside Seifer's in a suggestive manner.

Rinoa….. Squall was utterly confused. What was happening? Rinoa didn’t seem to be moving on her own, but Edea seemed as immobilized by the pink light as the rest of them. Rinoa bent down over Seifer, her face hovering near his. …! What…? Squall felt surprise wash over him.

Beside the shocked SeeD, Zell was watching the scene with the same shock and confusion. Besides surprise, he felt anger and jealousy. What is that little slut doing?! Get your grimy skank hands off of him! Zell had never felt something as strongly in his life as the jealousy that raged through his body, and he couldn’t even do anything about it.

"Open your eyes, Seifer. The time has kome."

Seifer stirred at the gentle whisper against his cheek. He opened his eyes, hoping to meet the icy fields of Zell’s eyes, but was greeting with the cold hourglassed gaze of Ultimecia. Her eyes crackled like fire in the sockets of Rinoa’s head. "Rinoa…?"

"Time Kompression is at hand, little one. Time to sukseed where blood before you has failed."

Seifer blinked a few times, Rinoa/Ultimecia’s words confusing him. Blood before him? What did that mean? It sounded so strange to actually hear Ultimecia’s words from somewhere other than his head. Rinoa’s face hovered millimeters over his, like she was going to kiss him. Seifer hoped that she wouldn’t, and made a move to pull his face away, but stopped all motion when his eyes caught the ghostly face of Ultimecia. This was the first time he had actually seen her. It was like she was contorting Rinoa’s face to mask her own. Rinoa’s dark hair became silver, streaming down her back, mingling with her black wings. Her face was paper-white, and painted with snaking lines that reminded Seifer of Zell’s tattoo. Black wings…. Seifer remembered a dream he had of a black winged woman, sitting on a spiny throne, Seifer bowed on one side of her, a hooded figure on the other. He blinked a couple of times, confused.

Rinoa moved her lips so that they were against Seifer's earlobe, blowing in his ear slightly, cackling when he involuntarily shuddered. She began to purr softly in his ear, loving the way Seifer's body recoiled in disgust. "Oh, my loyal Knight, Seifer," she purred, hidden scorn in her voice. "The Sorceress is alive…. The Sorceress demands." She said the word ‘Sorceress’ like it was only meant for her. "Find the legendary Lunatik Pandora, said to be hidden beneath the ocean. Only then shall the Sorceress provide you with dreams again."

Seifer closed his eyes, wanting to believe her so badly, wanting so desperately to have his own mind back again, to take back the pieces of himself that Ultimecia stole with each visit into his psyche. He began to have second thoughts about trusting her, but felt the invisible talons of Ultimecia’s power burrow into his mind. His muscles stiffened at the invasion, another little part of him dying so Ultimecia could exact complete control over him once again. This time, it was unlike anything Seifer had felt before. It was far stronger, and he couldn’t hold on to anything about himself, couldn’t mount any sort of resistance against this personal invasion.

Within the prison of her body, Rinoa could only watch as Ultimecia used her to destroy what was left of Seifer. She felt like weeping for him. Seifer didn’t deserve to have this happen to him, to have all his dreams, his entire self stripped away for the greedy purposes of Ultimecia. What if Rinoa herself met the same fate? What if Ultimecia used her body for those purposes, like she was using Edea, and Rinoa herself got lost in the blackness, following Seifer down that dark path? Within the future Sorceress’s body, Rinoa knew of Time Compression, knew Ultimecia’s thought patterns, for they were sharing a mind. Edea had been a prisoner as well, having to fight against the children whom she had sworn to protect. One train of thought confused Rinoa, for it was a black spot within even Ultimecia’s mind, only the single phrase even acknowledging its existence.

You are so like her, little one. Will you be as powerful? Will you fail me as she did?

What did that mean? Rinoa began to feel like she was slipping away. It had only been mere moments since Ultimecia had used Rinoa’s body to convey her message of whatever Lunatic Pandora was, but to the trapped girl, it felt like and eternity. Squall…. I’m scared……

Seifer's eyes snapped open, Ultimecia’s wishes the only thing he could feel, hear, want. He stood slowly, his body feeling like he was using it for the first time. "As you wish, Ultimecia."

Rinoa wanted to scream out for Seifer to stop. The sound of his voice frightened her. He sounded dead, like a horrible zombie. She suddenly felt like she was resurfacing, but any relief she may have felt at this disappeared as her body failed to respond to her mind’s commands. Her body dismantled, collapsing just as Seifer's had before her.

Zell watched as his fated lover slowly walked past them. He screamed at his body to move, to grab at the zombie that Seifer had become, but Seifer simply moved past him without really seeing him, seeing any of them. As soon as Seifer was gone, they felt the immobility fade.

Rinoa seemed to fall to the ground before them in slow motion. "Rinoa, are you okay?" Quistis asked, running over to the fallen girl. She kneeled beside the unconscious Rinoa, patting her cheeks.

Edea looked up from the podium that she was slumped against. "Squall…. Quistis, Selphie… Zell, Irvine…. You’ve all grown so much, and become so strong….." She breathed in deeply, feeling like a baby. It was strange to be able to do things totally on her own, without the ever present hand of Ultimecia guiding her every move. "I have… waited for this day…to come. And also feared this day… would come…."

They all looked up at her, surprised. Her voice was totally absent of the recent hardness that had taken it over, and she sounded warm, familiar, the Edea that they had all known.

"Is today a joyous day? Or an odious one?" She paused, her thoughts clearing. She then flinched, a look of panic in her eyes. "Where is Ellone?! Have I protected Ellone?!"

Squall shook his head. What did Ellone have to do with this? How did Edea know her beyond this search? Why would Edea have to protect Ellone? I don’t understand…..

"Squall!" Quistis cried, interrupting his mental monologue. "It’s Rinoa….."

Rinoa? What’s wrong with Rinoa…..? He went over to where Quistis was bent over her. Rinoa’s normally cheerful face was pale, and had a bluish tinge to it. She was breathing, but it was shallow. "What happened?"

"Damn you, Ultimecia….." Edea whispered. She made a move to join Squall beside Rinoa’s comatose form, but was unsteady on her legs, and slumped against the podium once again.

"Matron?!" Zell cried, rushing over to help her. "Are you okay?"

"Zell….." She looked over at Rinoa again. "She won’t be happy until she’s destroyed everyone…." Edea’s golden brown eyes looked over to Zell again. "I think we should leave. Ultimecia will use the Galbadian Army, under Seifer's control."

"Seifer…. Why is he doing this?!" Zell exclaimed angrily.

Edea patted his hand. "I’ll explain everything. Please, come the Orphanage when you’ve sorted out the issues of the Garden. I don’t feel comfortable discussing things here."

Zell nodded, leading her out of the Auditorium. Rinoa still wasn’t moving, and Squall carried her out. Everything was falling apart around them, and they couldn’t seem to do anything but watch time crumble.

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