Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Final Fantasy VIII, however I do intend on using them for my own selfish amusement!
Author’s Notes: Some people have said that they noticed a bit of OOCness in some of the characters… especially Squall… but I do have to point out that this IS an AU!!!
A World Apart
Squall's irritation at being interrupted melted away when he opened the door and discovered Zell standing there. His arms were full of potato chips, popcorn, soda, and a backpack full of anime movies he had rented.
"If Mohammed won't come to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed!"
Squall smiled in spite of himself and opened the door wider for Zell to come inside.
Sighing heavily, Zell dropped the snacks and the backpack onto the floor and began to take off his shoes. It was then that he noticed Seifer lying on the bed. His eyes opened wide and he fought to find something to say, especially since Seifer had his shirt off and his jeans unzipped.
Seifer just gazed lazily at Zell, waiting for him to say something, but when it became obvious that he was just going to stare, he flicked his gaze up to Squall, who just shrugged his shoulders.
An evil smirk crossed Seifer's lips, and Squall could tell that it meant trouble.
"See something you like?" Seifer asked, his words dripping sarcasm.
Zell's face immediately turned a lovely shade of beet red, and he hastily switched his gaze to the floor. He knew he'd been staring – but it wasn't because he liked what he saw, he just couldn't fathom why Seifer Almasy, of all people, was lying on Squall's bed...not to mention the fact that he was practically naked and looking as if he'd been beaten within an inch of his life. What the hell was going on?
"Aww, isn't that cute? He's embarrassed about being attracted to me."
Seifer's comment brought Zell's head up with a snap. "I'm not attracted to you!" he sneered.
"Hey, it's okay! You can admit it, you're among friends...we won't tell a soul. What's the matter? You aren't a Chicken Wuss, are you?"
Zell's hands clenched at his sides – the one thing he couldn't stand being called was a chicken. Shaking with rage, he forgot that this was Seifer Almasy, a boy twice his size and with an unbeaten track record when it came to fights. "What did you call me!"
"I called you a Chicken Wuss," Seifer stated, enjoying the reaction his words provoked.
The tension hung in the air, thick and ominous, and for the space of a few seconds, it was as if none dared to breathe for fear of it crushing them. Seifer glared steadily at Zell, who, to his credit, glared straight back.
Squall watched all of this happen, suddenly feeling as if he were on some crazy roller coaster ride with no track to follow, instead just a winding path of fleeting emotions that left him dizzy and confused.
On one hand he had Seifer, a new friend that needed his help and one that had reassured Squall both of his worth and of his chance for an existence outside of being Shane's plaything. Seifer made him feel alive for the first time since last year. But hearing him be so cruel to Zell was like watching a complete stranger take over – this wasn't the Seifer Squall had come to know. The Seifer he knew was kind and selfless, always ready with a soft touch or a gentle word for him. And now he saw for the first time the Seifer that his father had created, the Seifer that hurt first and asked questions later, and that it was Zell he was hurting was almost more than Squall could bear.
Zell, whom he'd known since kindergarten, and who had never let him down – no matter what the outcome was. He'd fought for Squall many times and had been beaten up for it. He owed Zell a lot for his patience and for his unquestioning loyalty. He couldn't ask for a better friend and Squall knew just how cutting Seifer's words were to him, Zell didn't like being called a chicken; that word set him off like a house on fire.
Squall hung his head, staring at the floor. Seeing them act this way to each other hurt him more deeply than he could express...but what could he do? There had to be something he could say that would diffuse the situation without causing any more harm, but just what those words were, Squall didn't know. He wasn't good with situations like this.
Thinking as quickly as he could, he decided that distraction was probably the next best thing. Zell didn't have the world's greatest attention span, so maybe he could make him forget about what Seifer had said by reminding him why he came over in the first place.
Squall turned and opened his closet. Stepping inside, he had to quell the desire to just stay in there until things blew over. That wouldn't be a good thing, seeing as the two people he cared most about would probably hurt each other in his absence.
Distracted by Squall's actions, Seifer wondered why the younger boy had gone into the closet. He didn't have to wonder for long, though, as Squall soon wheeled out a television and VCR on a small cart.
"Zell, can you give me a hand with this?" he asked.
"Sure," Zell smiled, helping to wheel the cart against the wall with the mural of the flower field.
Once they got everything plugged in, Zell opened his backpack and pulled out some of the tapes, sorting through them.
Squall turned around rather shakily and plopped down on the bed beside Seifer. He didn't want to think about the situation he'd just diverted, and hopefully it wouldn't come up again. A hand on his shoulder made him jump a little, but stayed firmly planted where it was and began to knead some of the tension from him. Squall closed his eyes and let the hand work it's magic. Soon it was joined by another, and Squall leaned into Seifer's touch, forgetting for the moment that they were not alone. But all too soon the hands left his shoulders and he realized that he was being spoken to.
"...sure you want to watch this one? Cowboy Bebop is one of my favorites too. You ready to...?" Zell trailed off. He hadn't been expecting to see Seifer touching Squall. Squall didn't like to be touched, so what was this? He watched as Seifer removed his hands from Squall's shoulders and lay down again. A feeling he couldn't name settled like a hot poker inside his stomach, though he decided for Squall's sake to just ignore what he had seen, and, without another word, switched on the movie.
It wasn't long before Squall and Zell fell into their old routine of Squall making comments and Zell laughing like a maniac. Seifer laughed a couple of times early on, but soon he grew silent when he realized that it was like he wasn't even in the room. They were both so involved in the movie that Seifer felt like an outsider watching from a window. He knew that Zell was Squall's friend and it wasn't fair for him to be feeling jealous, but he'd never had a friend before and having to share Squall wasn't something he was used to, nor something to which he wanted to adapt.
Halfway through the movie, Seifer got up and left the room, softly shutting the door behind him. He wasn't leaving the house, but he just couldn't stand being in that room with Zell much longer, the boy was getting on his nerves. Maybe Squall liked him, but Seifer was quickly discovering that Zell was not on his list of favorite people.
Walking into the dining room, he found Quistis sitting at the table with a few books open and papers scattered everywhere: on the table, the chair next to her and the floor. He quirked an eyebrow and smirked – if college was this much work, he was glad he would never get to go.
Quistis raised her head wearily and smiled distractedly at him. "Hello, Seifer. Did you need something?"
"Nah, I just came down here to get a drink of water," he said offhandedly, shrugging his shoulders.
Quistis sighed deeply, removed her glasses and began to rub the bridge of her nose. "Distract me."
"I said distract me, I'm drowning in all this paperwork, so do me a favor and distract me."
Seifer wasn't sure if he wanted to talk to her, but she was smiling, so she couldn't mean him offense.
"Just talk to me, that's all."
"About what?" What in the world did she want? He was beginning to get uncomfortable, especially since he'd forgotten to put his shirt back on.
Quistis sighed again. "Nothing, never mind. I'll go and take a walk, perhaps that will clear my head."
Seifer could hear the former warmth and slight playfulness in her voice quickly replaced with cold indifference as she got up from the table and headed out the back door. He watched her retreating back and wondered if Squall could have gotten it wrong. Maybe she wasn't as bad as Squall thought she was.
Shaking his head he got himself a glass from the cupboard and turned on the cold water. Drinking his fill, he rinsed the glass and set it in the dishwasher. Turning around, he almost had a heart attack. Laguna stood behind him with a concerned look on his face. What had he been doing? Looking at his back? Why?
He gripped the edge of the counter hard and waited for the inevitable questions that would come.
Laguna knew the boy was probably afraid of what he would say. He hadn't meant to stare or even get that close, but as he passed through the dining room, he'd caught sight of Seifer's back and it was almost more than he could bear. Squall had said that his friend was in trouble, but he had no idea that it was this bad. Who could do something that horrific to a child? He just couldn't fathom the trauma that the boy had sustained, and he could tell that this was not the first such beating he'd endured either, his back a criss-cross canvas of fading scars and fresh wounds.
Seifer had expected questions, but as he watched Laguna's eyes mist over with unshed tears, he suddenly felt angry. He didn't want pity, certainly not from Squall's father. A lot of invasive questions would have been easier to handle, anything but that look of sympathy. He tried to brush past Laguna, but the man put his hands on Seifer's shoulders and stopped him. Seifer had to try very hard to remind himself that this was Squall's father and that he was a guest in his home. If that weren't the case, he would have laid the man out for touching him.
Laguna saw his anger, and wanted nothing more than to tell Seifer that everything was okay, but he knew that those words would have little to no meaning to him at all. He didn't want to make him any angrier so he dropped his hands and shoved them into his pockets.
Seifer glared at him one last time and departed.
Watching him go, Laguna decided that the best thing he could do for the boy was get him permanently out of the situation he was in. Of course he hadn't said anything about who'd done that to him, but then again it didn't take a genius to figure out that he was being hurt at home. Walking quickly back to his study he closed the sliding double doors and picked up the phone on his desk to call his lawyer. Kiros would be able to tell him exactly what could be done about Seifer without causing more trouble – he was a reliable person and Laguna knew that he would do all he could to help.
He dialed Kiros' home number, tapping his fingers impatiently against the desk as he waited for him to pick up.
"Kiros, it's Laguna."
"Hey, what can I do for you?"
"Well, I have a sticky situation that I need some advice on how to deal with."
"Squall isn't in trouble, is he?"
"No, it isn't Squall, but it is one of his friends. The kid is being beaten at home, and right now I have him staying at my house."
"Oh, that is a sticky situation. Do the parents know where he is?"
"I don't know for sure, Kiros, but I think it's safe to say no, they don't."
"Hmm...you could be opening yourself up to a world of trouble, Laguna."
"Kiros if you saw what that kid's back looked like, you'd care even less about that than I do right now. I just need some advice on what I should do. Should I keep him here and get the Social Services involved?"
"That depends on how involved you want to get with this. You can report the abuse to the Social Services and let them proceed from there, or you can get really involved and put in a bid for custody as a foster parent. But I warn you, treading that path means a lot of court costs and paperwork, not to mention the fact that you'll have to be investigated as well by the Social Services to determine whether or not your home is a suitable place for the kid."
Laguna was silent for a moment as he thought about what he wanted to do. There was no question about whether or not he wanted to get involved – he already had. Seifer was in his home and had probably run away, so if there was a chance in hell to save him, then he was going to have to let the Social Services call the shots for a bit. Not that he had anything to hide, but Squall was a rather private person and having someone poking around in his private life might be a bad idea. Not even Laguna knew everything there was to know about Squall.
"I guess I have to think about this some more Kiros. Not that I would mind being looked into by Social Services, it's more Squall that I'm worried about. You know how manic he gets about people sticking their noses into his business."
"Alright, just think about what I told you and let me know if you want to proceed. I have a feeling that you will so I'll give you a bit more advice. If the Social Services are even going to consider your bid as a foster parent, you better start taking care of this kid. What I mean by that is, of course, shelling out some major money for clothing and other necessities. If nothing else, they'll take that into consideration. Also, if you're better able to provide for this kid than any of his immediate family members, you stand a better chance of getting him."
"Okay, I'll talk to Squall and see what he has to say on the matter. It's really as much of his decision as it is mine, seeing as how he is going to have to share the house with him."
"Okay, just let me know. Later Laguna and good luck with Squall."
Laguna hung up the phone and stared off into empty space. This was definitely going to be an experience...he just hoped that it didn't turn around and bite him in the butt. Well, at least tomorrow was Saturday, that meant he could let Squall take Seifer shopping for some new clothes and such.
Sighing deeply, he remained unable to remove from his mind's eye just how bad Seifer's back had looked. If he thought that it would help, he'd march straight up to whoever it was that had hurt him and knock their block off...
Outside on the porch, Seifer shivered at the coolness of the night air against his bare skin, wishing that he hadn't forgotten his shirt upstairs. In fact, he'd already decided to go back inside and retrieve it, when the soft sounds of someone crying reached him. Forgetting about the shirt for the moment, he shifted from his position and followed the quiet sounds. Stepping carefully to avoid crunching fallen leaves, he came around the side of the garage and found Quistis sitting with her back against the wall, her head buried in her arms which she had propped up on her knees. Not really wanting to disturb her, he turned to go, but some slight noise alerted Quistis to his presence.
"Have you ever lost someone close to you?"
Her question caught Seifer off guard. He hadn't expected to be spoken to, but he supposed anything was better than going back inside at the moment. Turning around, he folded his arms over his chest, partly to warm himself, partly as a protective gesture. "Never really cared about anyone enough to notice," he said, shrugging his shoulders slightly.
Quistis eyed him carefully, he had obviously been abused and would make an interesting case study, but right now that was hardly on her agenda. For far too long she had avoided talking to someone about her feelings and sometimes it was just easier to talk to a stranger. "Do you mind if I talk to you?"
Seifer shrugged again, not really sure if he wanted to talk to her or not. But as long as the conversation remained on her and not him, he supposed that it would be all right.
Quistis sighed deeply and stood up, absentmindedly dusting herself off. "You look cold, do you want to go back inside? We can go to my room if you don't mind. I have a feeling that the reason you're out here rather than upstairs with Squall is that you didn't take to Zell too much."
Seifer was surprised by her insight. Not a lot of people could read him, and she definitely hit the nail on the head with that one. His look of surprise must have been evident for she laughed bitterly.
"Don't worry, I've always been perceptive, not to mention Zell is the kind of person that has to grow on you. Luckily for me, I haven't been around long enough for that to happen, so you and I are pretty much in the same boat."
Seifer smiled slightly, and turned toward the back door, motioning for Quistis to take the lead. Together they ascended the stairs and re-entered the kitchen, where Quistis paused to pick up her books. Seifer watched her struggle with them for a moment before reaching out and taking a couple off the top of the stack. She smiled gratefully and led the way to her room.
Once inside, she dumped her books on the bed and offered Seifer a chair, which he took, sitting in uncomfortable silence as the moments dragged by, the only sound being the faint noise of Squall's television and the occasional burst of laughter that filtered in from outside. These sounds should have been comforting, but instead made him feel all the more like an outsider.
Quistis observed his nervous behavior. Normally would have tried to put him at ease, but at the moment she wasn't feeling particularly helpful. She knew she was suffering from depression and anxiety, and being home just wasn't helping as much as she'd thought it would. Though she'd dragged Seifer to her room with the intention of talking, now that he was there she suddenly didn't want to anymore. Frustrated at her own indecisiveness, the thought that she'd be forever burdened with her own inability to cope overwhelmed her and she burst into tears.
Seifer didn't know what to do for her. He'd only met her a few hours before, and here she was, crying. Why did girls act like that? What the hell did they expect a guy to do? Comfort them? Cry with them? Make things better? He didn't know, and now he was more at a loss than he had been when she burst in on him in the bathroom. The only thing he was sure of was that he didn't want to be in her room anymore. Squall crying had been heart wrenching for him, but Quistis's tears just made him nervous.
Aware that she was making a spectacle of herself, Quistis felt like screaming. Instead she took a deep breath and grabbed a tissue. "I'm terribly sorry," she said, blowing her nose. "I don't know what came over me. Please stay, I really need to talk to someone right now and I think you're probably the best person."
"Because sometimes talking to a stranger is easier than talking to your family. But...since you look like you're ready to run for the door, you can leave at any time. I won't force you to stay and listen."
Seifer thought it over. If he left her room, that meant either returning to Squall's, or taking a chance on encountering Laguna again. Either way he was going to have to do something he didn't want to do, so he might as well take the lesser of the two evils and stay. There was no harm in just listening...right? "I guess I'll stay, but just don't expect me to be some sort of miracle worker, cause I got problems of my own – I really don't need this shit."
Quistis was slightly surprised by his candor. Not even in her Psych class had she found such honesty. It was unusual given that she'd already labeled him as needy and probably dishonest, an evaluation that she quickly amended. It seemed that Seifer was turning out to be more of an enigma than she had originally thought, and if she wasn't careful, she just might find that she could like him – a thought that made her smile, despite her puffy eyes and runny nose. "Thanks for being honest with me – you don't find that much these days. Most people would have just humored me and then talked about me behind my back."
Seifer merely nodded his affirmation.
"Squall has probably already filled your head with all sorts of notions about me, and while some of them may be true, there are some that he is completely wrong about. Ever since he was born I have lived in the shadow of the Golden Boy, he who could do no wrong in Mom and Dad's eyes. Especially Mom. She loved him so much and he loved her. They did practically everything together, and I will admit to being jealous. Who wouldn't have been? They shared so much in common that I felt as if I had been adopted. They were always going to art galleries and discussing classical literature, and I felt as if there were no room for me in that, so instead of trying to share in that, I threw myself into my schoolwork. I don't mean to sound as if my Mother wasn't proud of me, she was. She always came to my school functions and congratulated me on my awards, but it was to Squall that she was devoted."
Seifer couldn't help but lean forward, listening intently. He hadn't thought he would find the subject interesting, but the more she talked about Squall, the more he wanted to know. "How come you didn't just tell her how you felt?" He asked, the question slipping out before he could stop it.
"I did try and tell her once, but all she did was hug me and tell me that one day I would shine just as bright. But that Squall needed her far more than I could know. She told me that I was strong and capable of doing whatever I set my mind to. I guess it was meant to be encouraging and helpful, but all it did was increase my bitterness. I even talked to Dad about it, but he just chalked it up to sibling rivalry. He isn't the most insightful person in the world, and would probably forget his own birthday if we didn't remind him every year. He means well, and I love him, honestly I do, but there are times when he makes a better doorstop than a father figure."
Seifer smirked, remembering his encounter with Laguna in the kitchen. "Yeah, I guess he does mean well, but I can't help but find him a bit on the creepy side."
"Dad? Creepy?" she smiled as she thought about it. "I think goofy would be a better word."
They both shared a chuckle at Laguna's expense before she continued.
"By the time I graduated high school, I had already decided in my mind that there was really no room for me in this family. A very selfish attitude, I know, but I couldn't help it. I had the chance to go to the University here, but decided that the best course of action was for me to just move away. Maybe then I would begin to feel as if they really cared about me. I tried very hard not to think about it my first year away, and for a while it was easy to pretend that all was well. But then Mom got sick."
Tears began welling up in Quistis's eyes again and she blinked them back before they could fall. She blew her nose, sniffled a few times as she attempted to compose herself. Finally heaving a great sigh, she decided that she had gotten this far with it, she might as well continue on.
"At first I came home every chance I got so that I could see her and try and help Dad out. Things weren't so bad then. She was still well enough to keep things pretty much together. She told me then not to worry about her illness, that I should just concentrate on my studies. She knew that midterms were coming up and that I have to work really hard because I am not the world's best student. I was flattered that she cared so much about my studies and decided that she was right. So I went back to the University and passed my midterms. It was when I came home for the summer that everything seemed to fall apart. Dad had taken her to a specialist and we were all floored when she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, with a prognosis of no more than six months. Squall was hit hardest of us all. He stopped eating, and as Mom wasted away, so did he. When she lost the ability to speak, he stopped talking. It was as if he was dying with her, and for the first time, I think I really started to understand what Mom had meant about him needing her more than I did."
Quistis heaved a great sigh and the tears that she had been trying so hard to hold back, burst through in a torrent. For so long she had avoided talking about this, and Seifer was surprisingly very easy to talk to. Yet the hardest part to tell was still to come. How she dreaded having to say those awful words, but even as she dreaded it, she could feel them burning in her chest.
"I don't like to admit that I am an awful person, but I have no other excuse to offer except that I am selfish. I couldn't stand to see Mom like that, and the fact that Squall was wasting away with her only cemented my resolve. I didn't want to think that my Mother could die, much less watch it happen. So I left. I went back to the University and threw myself into my studies. I comforted myself by saying that it was what my Mother wanted me to do, but it was a small comfort. I knew in my heart that I should have been here, but I just couldn't do it. When Dad called me to tell me she had finally passed away, I was so relieved. Isn't that awful? I knew my family was hurting and I was relieved that she was dead. I felt so guilty for feeling that way that I couldn't bring myself to even show my face at her funeral."
Seifer was quiet for several minutes, trying to find the right words to say. She had admired his honesty in the beginning, so maybe that was the way to go? Although the horror etched on Quistis' face at her admission gnawed at something within him, he had enough problems of his own without being weighed down by someone else's emotional baggage. Was he supposed to be the Guru of problem solving now?
Sighing, he shifted on the seat, wincing slightly when his back protested at the sudden movement.
"Look Quistis, I don't really know what it is you expect from me. I could just tell you what you want to hear, but in the end that would be wrong. You liked my honesty and so I'll give it to you. You feel guilty, fine, I got that, but here it is in a nutshell. Either talk to Squall about what you feel or quit whining about it. Nobody else can solve your problems for you, and I've got more than enough of my own."
With that said, Seifer rose from his chair and moved to the door. He could feel Quistis's wide-eyed stare following his movements, but right then he could care less. Let her think what she wanted. He was no monster, callous and uncaring like his father wanted him to believe, but he'd taken all he could stand at the moment, and listening to someone else have the luxury of complaining just pissed him off.
(End Chapter Twelve)
A/N: I am so very sorry that it has taken me so long to update this story.... My muses seem to find it amusing to come and go and they please.... My heartfelt apologies to you all! However I have to say that without my Beta Avatar Infidel, this chapter would still be sitting on my computer.... She is truly amazing! I don't think I could do as well without her! Thanks AvI for doing the Beta and for putting up with my endless re writing ... sometimes the stories don't go exactly how I plan them too and this chapter certainly shows that...course you got to see the original version and how different it turned out to be... The rest of you can be grateful that she didn't allow me to subject you to substandard drivel.
Many thanks to all who told me why they like this fic. It was enlightening! Thanks ever so much for your comments and for your praise! I love you guys dearly, if it weren't for your appreciation I doubt I would have gotten as far as I have. Keep your comments coming and I promise that I will continue writing this story...
Many Regards to you All
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