Authorís Notes:

Yet another fic. Iíve been raiding one of my old notebooks searching for the beginnings of stories I never finished. I found this little gem amidst a lot of other crap and added a middle and an end, leaving the first part pretty much intact. Voila! A whole chapter! (This story seems to have at least two more chapters it requires, so expect more.)

The little squiggly lines (~~~~~) represent a flashback. Hope it isnít too confusing.

Again, I donít own the characters or the world or the game storyline. I do, however, own this particular storyline, and the others Iíve written, but that doesnít amount to very much. Maybe a few rusty bottlecaps or clamshells, depending on the local currency. And believe you me, the people at 7-Eleven get pretty mad and start yelling insults in Hindi at me if I try to barter twisty-ties for a Slurpee.

Enjoy! And thanks for the reviews! ~ Kaerith

Tainted Memories

Chapter 1

By Kaerith

I looked at him, my eyes following the lines of muscles. Tracing the planes and curves of his body. Remnants of tears still shone on his lashes and I had to stop myself from brushing stray strands back from his face.

I tried to hold on to that feeling of tender protectiveness but the dark waters of a memory reared up, tearing the present from my grasp.

"That is enough for now. Take him back to his cell." An elegant hand indicated two guards who immediately stepped forward to unshackle Leonhart from the torture apparatus. Some emotion passed over me and I strangely didnít want the guards touching him.

"Stop. Iíll do it." My words surprised myself, but not the Sorceress. With a vile, knowing narrowing of her golden eyes she turned her head toward me and waved the guards back into position. "Of course. As you wish, my pet."

Time had broken my defenses and will. I no longer struggled against the intangible bonds holding my mind captive. Fighting her had proven useless.

With a curt nod I turned to the broken body of Leonhart. I listened to the swish of her skirt and click of her shoes as I freed his limp form from the wall. I tossed him over my shoulder and paced purposefully from the room into the hallway. Out of sight from the prison guards I slowed to adjust my hold to a less jarring one. Halfway down that corridor I changed destinations. Returning to a brisk military stride I headed toward my quarters.

Upon returning to my chamber I laid the brunette on the rough cot. Standing back I studied my rival. The electricity had done its damage. His shallow, labored breathing caused something to loosen in me. I pulled off my right glove and prepared a cure spell. Holding my bare hand a mere half-inch from his chest I activated the spell, causing a momentary glow to surround his prone form. Turning away, I replaced my glove and headed toward a chair.

"Seifer?" A weak voice asked from behind me. Spinning around, I looked at him warily, knowing that it had been a stupid decision to bring him here.

"Yeah?" I grunted. Suddenly I was terrified.

His head rested back down and dark bangs fell over his forehead, contrasting sharply with his exhausted, pale face. "Thought it was you. Guess you got me pretty good, huh?" I stayed silent, confused. But it seemed he wanted an answer.

"ErÖ yeah. Guess I did."

His eyes closed. Softly, he continued. "Hope Matron didnít punish you too bad."

Matron? I mentally shrugged. Whatever. Electricity mustíve knocked something loose. "Um, no, not too badly."

"Good." The word was a near inaudible exhalation, as if the short conversation had sapped his remaining strength. Maybe it had. His body seemed to sag and his breathing became more even.

Hmm. Guess Iíll just sit and wait until he wakes up again. I settled into the canvas chair and propped my boots up on the table where Hyperion lay. I leaned my head back and shut my eyes, confident in my ability to wake at the slightest noise he should make.

Time passed until a creak of leather jolted me out of my half-slumber. I opened my eyes to see Leonhart sitting on the edge of the cot.

His eyes narrowed, silently and dangerously accusing. "Seifer." An abrupt statement as steely and finely honed as my blade. His eyes had darkened to an equally piercing gunmetal grey.

"Leonhart." I shoved my nervousness back, affecting a cool, nonchalant attitude.

The uncomfortable silence stretched on excruciatingly. His glare sliced the space between us to meet my uncaring demeanor.

"I mean to kill you," he finally stated.

I snorted. "Why didnít you when you had the chance?" I nudged my gunblade with one steel-toed boot.

His gaze faltered for a brief second. "I want you to fight back."

"Have a deathwish, hmm?" I arched an eyebrow.

"No! Just honor!" he retorted. "A conceited coward like you wouldnít understand," he continued, half-mumbling.

"Youíre calling me a coward? You wonít even fight me without two of your friends-" My sentence was interrupted as I stiffened.

:Enjoying him, pet?: A graphic sexual image of Leonhart and I accompanied her deep, throaty chuckle. I could feel my face turn from stark white to horrified red.

Get the fuck outta my mind!: I roared the message to her in a mind-blast. Her amused laughter faded as she retreated down the dark passage of thought she had erected between our minds.

When I was certain that her filthy presence had left, I released my breath and opened my eyes. I hadnít realized I had shut them and could not recall hunching over and balling my fists futilely. I felt beads of sweat cling to my forehead and the back of my neck. Spots of blackness finally left my vision.

When I finally raised my head, Squall was looking at me strangely. "Was that her?" I tried to label the tone and inflection of his voice. Fear andÖ concern?

"Yeah." My throat felt raw. I probably had screamed out loud. I forced my hands open and tried to stop my shaking. I hate it when she goes into my head like that! I glanced back at Squall quickly, feeling guilt for the picture the Sorceress had burned into my memory.

"I, uh, gotta go." I stood and headed for the door at just short of a sprint, knocking over the chair in my haste. "Just stay here and, um, rest."

"Seif-" His voice was cut off as I bolted through the door and slammed it behind me.

~~~~~

The past suddenly threw me from its hold, and I shook my head roughly. Itís over now. I clutched that thought, trying to use it as a barrier between now and the feelings those memories brought back.

Squall rolled over and I quickly wiped tears from my face. His eyes opened and he focused on me. "Again?" he asked gently. Not trusting my voice, I nodded, and he immediately opened his arms. I crawled into the bed and let him hold me.

Eventually he spoke. "Feel like sleeping?"

I shook my head. "Not really."

"Me neither. Letís go for a walk." He stood and tugged at my hand. "Címon." I smiled a bit and got up. Silently we dressed and left the cottage. Linking hands, we began strolling down the beach.

The sound of the waves crashing soothed me. "Are you ready to talk about it?" Squall stopped walking and slowly pulled me around to face him, searching my expression with a concerned gaze.

"I-I canít. Not yet." My voice cracked with emotion and I could feel my hands tremble slightly.

"Okay," he said simply, sighing and dropping my hands to wrap his arms around me and rest his cheek against my chest. I gripped him close and closed my eyes to prevent more tears from escaping. Heís been so patient, I thought. I hadnít been able to tell him too much of what happened while I was under Ultimeciaís control, but he had stayed with me for the past three months.

***Squall***

I could feel him shaking as we held each other. I quelled yet another wave of rage at the Sorceress who had broken Seifer. Before her he had been a strong and proud man, fiery and unshakable. I had fallen or him despite his arrogance and angerÖ fell in love with the kind-hearted vulnerable boy he really was. Only Ultimecia had brought that vulnerability to the surface and scarred him physically, mentally, and emotionally; changed him into a fearful, haunted shadow of his former self. His eyes, darker now than they had been before the war, cast scared glances around continuously, searching the shadows for the hidden demons that invaded his dreams and thoughts. He would startle at sudden noises and movements. He was haunted by his memories, much like the traumatized drafted soldiers after a particularly bloody war. Seiferís blank face and unfocused eyes echoed those of the war veterans lining the streets of Timber, detached from reality even while begging for food. Time after time I had turned my back on those unsettling stares, pity warring with disgust. Turned away from my own fears and nightmares.

But now I cannot escape from it. The terror chokes me whenever I look into Seiferís vacant eyes. I donít want to understand it, donít want to deal with it all, but I must. I must face my fears and his if I want Seifer, the real Seifer, back.

"Letís go back inside," I suggested as I felt his shivering increase with the breeze.

"No, please. I canít yet." His grip on my back tightened slightly as he clutched me closer.

"Alright." I pulled him down onto the sand, trying to shield his larger body from the wind with mine.

God, I hate this! I railed silently but vehemently against God, against Fate, against whoever was responsible for letting him get like this. I canít take it much longer! The silences, the tears, the cowering shell that seemed to be all that Seifer had becomeÖ. But what really broke my heart was when he shrank away from even the idea of exchanging more than kisses or clumsy caresses. The first time I had reached down to touch the fly of his jeans he had stiffened, shut his eyes, and whimpered. Whimpered! The large, boisterous man who had charged alone into the Dollet communications tower. Any suggestion or hint I made at doing more than making out was met with sullen silence or, worse, tears and pleas.

I was tired. Tired of his cowed apologies, tired of my sexual frustration, tired of seeing the one person I loved with all my heart so changed.

"ÖSeifer, Iím sorry." He raised his head and looked at me quizzically. "I love you, but I canít handle this anymore. Itís so hard for me to see you like this-" my voice broke and I lowered my head into my hands, letting tears fall from between my clenched eyelids and slide down my wrists. "I want to make you better, but I donít know how or if I even can. I donít know what happened, I donít know if youíll get better. I justÖ I donít know what else to do! Tell me what to do, Seifer! Iíve already resigned from my position, moved away from the Garden and my friends, just to be with you but you just seem to be worse! Iíve tried to be unselfish, calm, and forgiving to make you comfortable around me, butÖ Iím just drained. Iím empty. I need to get something in return. I donít know what you need to do, but please do it! I canít help you anymore!" I had avoided looking at him for my entire speech and now still sat with my head in my hands. Tears were flowing, but I stifled the sobs. I was devoid of all energy but that needed to just sit there, crying and hurting.

***Seifer***

I made no move to touch him while he talked. I had, in fact, cringed back the first time he raised his voice. I watched his shoulders shake and could hear stifled sobs coming from behind his chocolate curtain of hair. Tentatively I raised a hand to sweep the bangs from his face, but stopped mid-air. I couldnít bear to touch him when he was so upset. My touch wouldnít ease any pain of his; all I had ever brought to his life was pain. Every time we touched, every time we hugged or kissed I could feel myself contaminating him with the poison of my memories.

My chest constricted and I had trouble breathing as I watched him hug his knees and shake. I raised my head toward the sky wishing for some directions or answers, but all I saw was the moon blurred by my tears. If it werenít for meÖ everything would be different for him. He would have been a regular mercenary, with a regular salary, a regular girlfriend, a regular lifeÖ I shut my eyes and lowered my head into my arms. My heart seemed to be wringing itself dry in my chest. Heíd be better off without me. At least I owe him a chance for happiness.

Gulping back abortive sobs, I stood. I looked down at his bent head. "I-IÖ Maybe I had better just leave." Guilt weighing heavily on my shoulders, I turned toward the cottage, planning to pack up my few belongings of importance and just walking off. Out of his life. Squall will appreciate it one day.

His hand wrapped itself around my wrist. "SeiferÖ" Automatically, I turned and looked down into his face. His free hand rose to wipe his eyes. "Donít go."

"Youíll appreciate it one day," I said gruffly, looking away.

"PleaseÖ donít go, Seifer." His low voice was laden with sadness and desperation. It took all my willpower to stand unmoving instead of reeling to take him in my arms. What comfort can I offer him that isnít tainted? Nothing, Almasy. Better to just go away now and prevent more hurt for him later. Remaining still, I tried to ignore the rough palm pressed against the inside of my wrist and the strong fingers wrapped around it.

Eventually, Squall stood and walked around to face me, still holding onto my arm. The white moonlight softly illuminated part of his face, creating little shimmers in his wide, teary eyes and making his skin glow a color paler than usual. Looking pleadingly into my eyes, he placed his other palm on my chest. "Please donít go. Weíll get through this. I promise."

I had been conditioned by the Sorceress to accept orders without comment and bend to her will. Three months later it was still a habit, and annoyed Squall greatly. For the first time since being "programmed" I fought the immediate reaction to submit. In the end my emotions won over thought.

"Okay." I didnít know if we would get through everything, but the brightening of his eyes and the hint of a smile made everything up to that moment worth it.

 

 

Note: Tee-hee! Squall has strong fingers! Imagine the possibilities....

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