Eyelids slipped open to reveal complete darkness, the expected nothingness still causing a deep ache within the seer's chest. Squall hated himself for holding onto the meager hope that one day his useless eyes would view upon the world once more, that he would be able to see the clear form of the Hero for longer than a dream. It was a worthless hope which only led to disappointment and hurt... But that constant pain was momentarily forgotten as Squall pressed the palm of his hand against his forehead and sighed at his throbbing headache.
::Ah, he's awake, he's awake::
With an irritated hiss at the child's voice, Squall rolled over onto his side in search of comfort, but not finding the warm resistance he had been expecting, the blind man stilled in a tense pose. "Seifer...?"
::Fear not, lover:: the melodic voice stated soothingly. ::You and he are safe with the Artisans::
The few words reminded the seer of his location with the shimu tribe, but it didn't ease his state of mind. While vocally hating the motherly nature of the fighter, Squall relied on the assumption that the large man would always be there whether he was wanted or not. And at that moment, with Seifer gone for reasons only Hyne knew, the blind man felt intimidated and angered at being lost in his dark world, unable to guess what obstacles surrounded him in his current location.
Pushing away his panicked emotions with a sigh, Squall felt along the bed of messed sheets before finding the edge of the mattress. With slow and deliberate motions, the blind man stood up from the bed and stepped to the wall, his outreached hand first brushing against thin cloth and then pressing against the hardness of glass. From the apparent window, he walked forward with one hand against the wall and the other held out before him. He could have relied on the voices to direct him, but he was tired of listening to their words. And with his current headache, four voices trying to explain where the door was located would have been more than the seer could handle.
After encountering a large dresser and nearly tripping over a pair of boots, Squall came across a door which was slightly ajar. The blind man opened the door with some hesitance, showing his apprehension at looking foolish while opening a closet door instead of the entry door to the room. With a hand before him, he relaxed at the feel of open air and not the brush of hanging clothes. Placing that hand against the outer wall, Squall stepped cautiously into the new room.
"A-ah, you have awakened at last, young Protector."
Squall tensed at the unfamiliar voice, the tone deep while holding an odd whistling edge. "Where is Seifer?"
There was the sound of shifting clothes as the stranger stood. "The Hero was feeling... 'buggy' I believe he put it, and he left with his blade. He should not be long."
Despite himself, the seer frowned at the thought that Seifer had left him alone and vulnerable with people the fighter was adamant to not trust.
"Do not fault him, Protector. You have been asleep for over two days now. It was clear that the Hero was bothered by your lack of response. I suggested for him to work off his negative energy since it would not have helped you to wake." The man then stepped forward, soon invading the seer's personal space and making the blind man realize how tall the person was compared to the other shumi he had briefly met. "May I help you to a seat?"
Though hesitant, Squall remembered the assuring words of the Spirits that these people could be trusted to shelter and protect them. After the nod of his head, a hand wrapped around his upper arm, the touch extremely awkward in its feel. Placing his hand on the other's, the blind man felt along the overly large fingers covered in cold, rough skin.
A whispering laughter flowed from the nonhuman. "Forgive me for not introducing myself. I am an Elder of our small village. I understand that our race is unknown to those further north, so our features may be... surprising to you."
Clouded eyes widened with the realization that the crude fighter had been literal when he declared that these people weren't human. "What is your name?"
"It is too difficult to pronounce in your language. The Hero has taken it upon himself to call me 'Fennie' after hearing me speak my true name."
Sighing inwardly, Squall was unsurprised that the obnoxious man would butcher someone's given name into an insult, even if the shumi Elder didn't seem to recognize it as such. After a slight nod, the blind man was led to a small couch and was left there as the shumi moved to another seat across from the seer.
"Are you feeling well, Protector? Our healer can be summoned if you need aid."
"I'm fine. It's only a headache," Squall replied while placing his fingertips against his temple.
"Understandable. Your soul seems... unstable. You will rest here in our village and give your spirit the time to settle."
Grunting his thanks, the seer closed his eyes to search within his mind and focus on the magical bond between him and the protective charm covering Seifer's back. While unable to identify the exact location of the fighter, Squall was assured that the man hadn't traveled far. But by the energy he felt in connection with the blond, the seer knew that the man was slowly working himself into a frenzied state with aggressive sword work.
Opening his eyes despite the continued darkness, Squall stared tiredly in the direction of the voice.
"Forgive any offense, but by my pledge to Hyne and his kind requires me to ask you a difficult question." When the seer didn't vocally oppose, the shumi Elder continued to say, "You are the foreseeing Protector. While you hold certain duties to the Hero, your ultimate responsibility is to ensure the safety of our future. And so I ask you - are you prepared to do what you must to protect the coming days?"
Suppressing the urge to declare that he had already sacrificed enough in his life, Squall spoke in a low voice. "Are you suggesting that I wouldn't?"
"No, that was not my intent. Perhaps... allow me to tell you a story, and you should better understand." After a silent moment, the shumi started, "The Hero you know is not the first Hero to exist, and most likely not the last. And with the Hero has always existed the Protector, a person who guides and strengthens the Hero, as well as controls him."
"No one controls Seifer," the seer stated coolly.
"Perhaps, but you do influence his choices. And..." The shumi sighed in a whistling breath. "Our kind has been blessed with long lives, but even I have not met with a willing Protector of your age."
Interrupting, Squall asked, "What do you mean by 'willing', exactly?"
"You have always had the choice to ignore your visions, to call them nightmares and forget the dangers threatening the Hero. Of those Protectors who choose to help their Hero, most unfortunately die at a young age, some overwhelmed by their powers, some sacrificing their lives... But our ancestors have met with another young Protector like yourself in the past. She and her Hero had spent time in our village, a service we shumi have always granted to those chosen by Hyne. After days of peaceful rest, they chose to leave our protection. But hardly a day had passed when the Protector returned without the Hero at her side. Her clothes were soaked in blood, her face streaked with tears, and a knife was held in her hand. Allowing no one to approach her, she confessed to killing the Hero."
Sightless eyes widening, the seer whispered a harsh, "What?"
"The woman had a vision which showed her the tainted seed within the Hero. To prevent his eventual rising as a dark power, she was driven to kill him."
"No... a Hero doesn't die that easily," Squall stated distractedly, his thoughts more focused on his dreams where Seifer had been possessed and became a dark ruler over the lands.
"Normally, no, but that is the other way you control the Hero. They are vulnerable against the Protector, able to be injured and killed like any other human."
"I won't kill him," the blind man hissed.
"According to our legend, the woman did not wish to kill her Hero either and felt immense guilt for what she had done. She begged us to care for the fallen Hero and grant him a proper burial. Once our ancestors agreed, she smiled in relief and killed herself before we could prevent her death. A statue currently rests on the spot where she had died." After a moment of silence for the dead, the shumi Elder stated, "I pray that her soul is finally at peace now that the cursed one has been released from his bonds of hatred and betrayal."
Squall stood abruptly, his breath suddenly rushed and shallow. "That demon... he was a Hero?"
"Many, many years in the past, yes, he was the Hero killed by his Protector for the safety of our future."
His hands in tight fists at his sides, the blind man glared in the direction of the shumi Elder. "You wish to know if I could kill Seifer in cold blood. His life for a better future for everyone else, is it?"
Harsh breaths turned into sharp laughter. "I'd sooner walk at his side in Hell than take his life."
After stunned silence, the shumi Elder sighed a whistling breath. "That is your choice to make, but I find it disappointing that you would allow your emotions to cloud the sight which Hyne has gifted to you."
Squall made to comment on his thoughts about his 'gifted sight', but his mouth snapped close as his body abruptly failed him in an overly familiar manner. Not feeling his decent to the floor, the seer observed the future in the painful flashes of a vision. There was too much movement within the scene to understand everything, but accustomed to the ways of his sight, Squall could identify the important messages hidden within the shadowy images, all the while suffering from the assault on his body and mind. But as the light faded from his eyes, the seer focused on the final image, a teasing sight which he was tempted to label a hallucination and nothing more. But the figure turned just as darkness overwhelmed the blind man, the brief sight enough for Squall to identify the person with bitter certainty.
But that emotion was pushed aside as the seer took his first deep, harsh intake of new air. Nearly choking on that breath, Squall coughed and gagged while trying to end the needful ache of his lungs. It wasn’t until after a few steadying breaths when the blind man recognized that he was being held tightly. There wasn’t the typical soothing words of the large man, but Squall easily identified the scent of spice and musk.
"I thought you were gone," the seer said more harshly than he intended, the increased pain of his headache making him feel overly irritable.
Seifer chose not to reply for whatever reason, and instead brushed his lips along the back of the brunet’s neck while tightening his hold for a brief moment. The strong arms then loosened, directing Squall to settle on the ground as the fighter stood and moved a step back. While confused and mildly upset, the blind man didn’t argue about being forced to lie on the floor where he could close his eyes and try to drive away the persistent headache.
"I was to be called the moment he woke," Seifer stated coolly, his distrust for the shumi still apparent in his voice.
"He has not been awake for long, and I desired to speak with the young Protector as I have never met one of such strength and maturity."
A nearly unheard growl came from the fighter. "And I told you that I wanted to be with him once he regained consciousness. I should have never taken your suggestion to get fresh air… or was it merely a way to get me out of the picture? What did you plan to tell him with me otherwise occupied, hn?"
"Seifer, enough," Squall said in a tired voice. "I will tell you everything he told me."
The shumi Elder asked uncertainly, "Is that wise, Protector?"
The melodic ring of an unsheathed sword caused a chill to course through the blind man, making him hug his arms tight around his suddenly cold body. But concerned for the shumi Elder’s life over his own discomfort, Squall immediately bit out, "Stop it, Seifer. What is wrong with you?"
With hardly a whisper of warning, cold metal pressed against the side of the seer's neck. "What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me? I fucking saw you get killed three days ago, and then you drop into this deep sleep where I couldn’t reach you, and now this… this thing has been saying something to you. About me, I imagine, since I wasn't to hear about these matters."
Squall felt the warmth of blood trail down his neck, but didn’t attempt to knock away the blade from his throat. "I won’t leave you in the dark."
Sharp, loud laughter echoed in the room. "You won’t leave me in the dark?! That’s fucking rich. Tell me, Squall, what have you been doing this past year if not keeping me in the dark!"
The heated words burned through the seer, making him feel angry, hurt, and ashamed. He thought Seifer understood his reasons for not revealing everything about the shifting future, that the Hero trusted him to tell him what was necessary to help him survive. But that was apparently a lie, and the realization caused a bone-deep coldness to overwhelm the seer.
"Come on, kitten. Talk and tell me something I want to hear."
Squall couldn’t reply with his body and very soul feeling numb and cold. It was a fleeting thought which made him wonder why such a familiar state pained him, as he had once lived years with nothing to warm his body. It shouldn’t have mattered as much as it did.
The heavy blade shifted its position slightly in a warning nudge, but was then swiftly removed with an ‘oh, Hyne’ from the swordsman. Seifer dropped to his knees at the brunet’s side and placed his warm hand lightly against the minor injury as he spoke rushed words of healing. Though the wound easily sealed at the incantation, the fighter didn’t remove his hand and instead stroked lightly at the tender skin.
"Leave, now," Seifer spoke roughly, his words meant for the lingering shumi Elder. Respecting the Hero’s command, the nonhuman left with shuffled footsteps, the sound of a closed door signaling their privacy. Soon after, Squall flinched as rough skin pressed too hard against his neck, and Seifer drew away at the pained action. "I’m sorry. I didn’t… I’m sorry…"
The removed warmth of the large hand reminded the seer of his chilled state, causing him to reach out for the man before he could remember that it was the Hero who put him into such a state in the first place. Grabbing onto the sweat dampened shirt of the fighter, Squall pulled himself closer to the blond such that he rested part of his body along the lap of the kneeling man. His face buried in the material smelling of sweat and dirt, Squall inwardly laughed at his broken spirit, that even when injured by the man he once hated, he desired the comfort which only Seifer could offer.
A heavy hand rested between the brunet’s shoulder blades, thick fingers then massaging upward to feel the longer strands of dark brown resting on the seer's neck. "How did you do this to me?"
Squall didn’t know how to respond and so said nothing.
"I never cared this much before. I used to fight for myself, and that was enough. But now…" Seifer trailed off as he dragged his fingernails along sensitive skin, his large hand soon encircling the long neck of the seer. "I watched you while you slept. Two days and three nights you lied on that bed, looking completely at peace without a worry or nightmare to plague you. Since I couldn't sleep, I got to thinking about all the pain you have suffered through and everything to come…" As the hand tightened around the vulnerable throat, the fighter bent down closer to the silent brunet. "I could kill you if I really wanted to. I could grant you the peace you have always desired, and you would be happy."
The deep voice made Squall shiver from both fear and pleasure. He could feel the energy coursing through the Hero, a barely contained power which the seer knew could release him of his immortal bonds, the bonds which were put in place by the same incredible power. And yet, to die meant to leave Seifer's side, to leave him vulnerable to the darkness and his own foolhardy nature...
Abruptly, the hand released its choke hold and pulled back to rake fingertips through thick hair. "But I'm selfish. I can't give you happiness in exchange for my suffering. I can't be as strong as you in that regard."
The seer shook his head vaguely. "That's not strength. It's surrender."
"Stop belittling yourself," Seifer scolded as his hand grasped onto longish strands of hair. "You are the strongest person I know, and I'm the proud man who gets to fuck you."
Frowning at the unusually flat tone of the blond, Squall slowly pushed himself up while his free hand felt along the shirt of the large man. Once finding the warm skin of the exposed neck, the blind man reached forward to wrap his arms loosely around broad shoulders and to place his face against the thick neck. His head was hurting worse than before, but it felt good to be pressed against Seifer in such a shameless manner. Thoughtlessly, Squall licked the skin warmed by the sun and exercise, the taste of his Hero making him hum quietly.
Smirking at the oddly wary tone, the blind man said, "I have a headache, so I'm cutting this short. After this time spent with you, I regret nothing, and I would do it all again for you and only you."
Seifer wrapped an arm around the slim waist and pulled the brunet closer. "You liar. You can't tell me that you'd sacrifice your body again."
"I didn't say I'd enjoy it, but if it meant keeping you alive and safe, then yes. I would do more if necessary."
"Stupid kitten," Seifer murmured, hints of humor returning to the deep voice. Holding the blind man tighter, he then said, "We're quite the sorry lot, aren't we?"
"Speak for yourself."
A breath of laughter came from the blond as he pulled away. "You look exhausted. How about a bath before we go to bed?"
While his first instinct was to argue against more rest after apparently days of sleep, Squall instead nodded his head and allowed the experienced man to guide him into another room which held the bath. His head throbbing, the seer did nothing as his body was carefully stripped and then cleaned by Seifer, some of the touches far from platonic as the wash rag lingered in sensitive regions along the lithe body. But sensing the blond's continued unbalanced state of mind, Squall allowed the man whatever he needed without resistance.
Compared to the cleansing of the blind man, Seifer washed himself with quick and rough movements, the man evidently not wanting to delay in the desire for a long soak in warm water. And so, with little time to spare, Squall found himself seated between muscular legs and his back resting against the bare chest of the larger man as they shared the bath. With calloused fingertips stroking lazily along the seer's stomach, Seifer sighed deeply in an exhausted manner.
"What am I supposed to do, Squall?"
Not understanding the point of the question, the seer didn't reply.
"You're a psychic, so you should be able to tell me what to do. How do I bring an end to all of this?"
"I don't know."
"That's not good enough."
Scoffing, Squall moved in a vague attempt to leave the bath, but as expected, a strong arm wrapped around his chest and forced him to stay in place.
"I'm sorry. I know you don't control those powers of yours, but still, this is making me insane. I'm tired of seeing you hurt for my gain, I hate having some witch out there who is ready to kill us in our sleep, and I don't like this business of destiny and fate. I want to make my own choices and just end everything in a final battle or something."
"Not everything can be solved by swordplay."
Seifer quieted at the words, his free hand then moving to grasp onto the seer's branded wrist such that he could rub a thumb over the damaged skin. Squall didn't recognize the movement being a frequent habit of the blond's until that moment, and he couldn't remember when Seifer first had the desire to caress the shameful mark. But under the touch of the Hero, the brand felt blessed in some unreasonable way, as if the power of Hyne could remove the taint which the mark represented. While relaxing under his lover's touch, Squall felt along the broad chest of the man, his fingers brushing along cool silver of the pendant and necklace the fighter wore.
"I thought you lost this," Squall said, knowing that the necklace which Selphie had gifted to the blond was lost in the sorceress' mansion.
"One of those shee-mees gave it to me when I was outside earlier. While I still don't trust them with our safety, they are pretty impressive with crafting things. There's this statue at the edge of the village which is simply incredible. It's of this woman who isn't exactly beautiful, but there's still something entrancing about her... Fuck, I wish I was better with words to describe it to you."
"Was she named?"
"I think so, but you know I can't read much beyond my name. I recognized an 'E' and an 'S', but that's as far as I could get."
"Maybe later you can take me to the statue," Squall said, hoping that the letters hadn't been too worn over the ages. It was morbid curiosity which made him want to know the forgotten woman's name.
His hands pausing in their movements along wet skin, Seifer asked, "Why are you interested in the statue? Usually you're fairly indifferent about this sort of thing."
Knowing that he would have to tell the fighter everything sooner or later, the blind man stated, "Long ago, she was a seer like myself."
"Like yourself?" Seifer repeated in a thoughtful tone. "Then these creatures were telling the truth about there being other 'Guardians' or whatever they have been calling you?"
"It's 'Protectors', and yes, there have been other Heroes and Protectors in the past."
The blond scoffed in an incredulous manner. "What, they couldn't finish off this destiny crap themselves, so it's been left to us?"
The seer shrugged. "I doubt the past Heroes shared the same destiny as you, but it could be your fate to succeed where they failed."
Strained chuckles came from the fighter. "But no pressure from you, right?"
The brunet chose not to argue, afraid to inflate the man's ego further if he mentioned his certainty that Seifer was stronger than the people before him. "The shumi Elder who was here earlier told me about the statue and the woman it portrays. According to him, the woman died on that spot shortly after killing the Hero she was born to guide."
Seifer tensed vaguely at the words, his breaths shallow in surprise though he said nothing.
"The demon you faced in the cavern, or the 'cursed one' as they call him, was the Hero she killed. That is why he and that entire place hated my presence. He was betrayed by her."
"But she had a reason," Seifer stated with certainty, his voice flat and cool.
Hesitantly, the blind man said, "She had a vision that he was tainted in someway, that he would eventually become a dark lord. She killed him to prevent that."
The large man hummed his understanding as he relaxed out of his tense state and slumped against the back of the bath. Meanwhile, his fingers began stroking against the seer's wrist once more in a lazy fashion. His apathetic response infuriated Squall, but he was unable to move with the man's other arm still held tight around his midsection.
"Don't you understand, Seifer? I'm supposed to do whatever is necessary to protect the future, even if that means ridding the world of your presence. And worse of all, you're vulnerable against me. I could easily kill you with a knife technique that you taught me."
The large man laughed, the rumbling in his chest angering the seer further.
"I'm serious, you arrogant piece of shit," Squall stated as he jerked his wrist from the blond's grasp. His hands free, the seer grabbed onto the sides of the bath to pull himself out of the man's one armed hold, but the brunet was quickly secured as the second arm wrapped around his chest and pulled him tight against the bare body of the fighter.
"Calm down, kitten. I know I'm helpless against you. I've known that for some time."
Scowling at the nothingness before him, the seer said, "This isn't the time to be a romantic fool."
New laughter came from the blond. "Well, while it's true that I'm helpless to your seductive ways, that isn't what I meant. I know that I'm weak against you physically. Well, relatively weaker, at least."
"... but... how?" Squall asked, truly bewildered that the fighter could know something before him.
"I've been in plenty of brawls, Squally-boy, but I've never gotten black eyes like the ones you've given me, and they take fucking forever to heal if I don't use magic on them. And then there are the multitude of scratches on my back," Seifer added in a lustfully proud manner.
"Why didn't you tell me?" the seer asked, fearful of unknowingly possessing the ability to harm the Hero, and yet pleased with the certainty that Seifer had earned those minor injuries.
"What, and give you more of an excuse to attack me? I think not. I've suffered enough punishment under your tutelage without the threat of being maimed by those claws of yours."
A soft smile formed at the fighter's returned humor, but the show of relief vanished quickly when the brunet spoke. "I refuse to take your life."
The large man straightened at the serious words. "But if a vision--"
"I won't be your murderer," Squall stated sharply in interruption. "I will stand by your side no matter what may happen or what you may become."
After a stunned moment, Seifer sighed amusedly while pressing his lips along the seer's neck. "Now who is being the arrogant piece of shit?"
Sightless eyes narrowed in offense that the fighter wasn't taking him seriously.
"Relax, kitten. I'm not mocking your pledge to me or anything like that. I'm just impressed that Hyne chose two complete idiots to fulfill the destiny that he has in store for us. If he does this every time, I'm not surprised that no one has accomplished what needs to be done."
"You will," Squall stated in a soft voice, already succumbing to the gentle caress of lips against his skin.
"We will," Seifer corrected, before moving to lie back against the basin wall.
The blind man shifted with him such that he could rest against the broad chest and his hand could play with the pendant of Hyne before his face. He wished he could see the silver necklace, his sensitive fingers able to tell him that there were differences between the new pendant and the necklace Seifer had been given by Selphie. It felt more detailed with something joining the image of the single wing of Hyne, something the seer couldn't identify.
Interrupting the brunet's examination of the pendant, the fighter said lazily, "Say, Squall..."
"Do you think that woman seer loved the man she killed?"
Squall nearly replied with an irritated 'how should I know,' but a brief imagine came to mind of a distraught woman taking a bloodied knife to her throat, then ending her pain with a single slice and a gush of lifeblood. Startled by the vision which he assumed came from one of the Spirits, the seer shivered from his suddenly chilled blood and pressed closer to his Hero. Not hearing the quiet questioning of the fighter, Squall closed his eyes and pleaded with Hyne that he didn't want to share a similar fate as the forgotten Protector.
Looking up through wet branches, Seifer frowned with annoyance at the low clouds heavy with unshed rain. It was the third straight day of rain and the blond was starting to really miss the clear skies they had been spoiled with during the beginning weeks of traveling north. While the first shower had been nice to cool down the heated summer temperatures, the overhanging clouds were starting to get on the fighter's nerves.
With a glance back at his seer, Seifer knew the silent man was the other source of his foul mood. The trip from the shumi village had been like most of their other journeys, filled with either comfortable silence or drawn-out discussions where Seifer would purposefully bait the stoic man into heated arguments. But with the first drops of rain, Squall became withdrawn and overly silent during the day. At night, the brunet would curl tightly against the larger man, but he refused any touch that was too sensual. The unusual mood of the man was irritating Seifer as he knew there was a reason behind the seer's actions, but Squall remained tightlipped about the matter.
Reaching a cross in paths, Seifer stopped and turned toward the pale-eyed man. "Which way now, kitten?"
Slowing to a stop next to the larger man's side, Squall adjusted the hood of his cloak to better cover his face from the fat drops of water falling from wet leaves. He frowned vaguely while staring in the cross-eyed gaze of blind men. "How much daylight is left?"
The blond scoffed. "With these clouds, it's hard to tell, but I think there is still a good half day of traveling left. Why do you ask?"
Squall didn't respond to the question, and instead hitched his pack into a better placement on his back before taking the path which lead east. Growling out a sigh, Seifer followed the infuriating man and purposefully eyed the shifting ass incased in soft leather. Unfortunately, the teasing sight didn't distract him as much as he had hoped, his thoughts instead focused on figuring out the latest mood of his seer. The similarity of this attitude to when Squall had the vision of his own death bothered Seifer, but there was a more somber air about the dark-haired man compared to that time.
The blind man soon slowed to a stop, the action bringing Seifer's mind back into the present as he stood at the smaller man's side. Green eyes scanned the wet meadow of long grass and drooping wild flowers, the fighter automatically searching for signs of danger before he was able to take in the dreary view of the soaked open space surrounded by tall trees. Turning to the silent man, Seifer had to bend slightly to see the face of the seer from underneath the raised hood. Seeing the same guarded expression of the days previous, the blond moved in front of Squall and placed a gloved hand beneath the man's chin to make him look up with his cloudy eyes.
"Are you going to tell me what's wrong?"
Squall looked about not to answer before he grabbed onto Seifer's hand with a careful hold. "You'll see."
"Is this about your vision? Because if it's anything like when the bitch stole you from me--"
"It isn't," the seer interrupted with a weak smile. "I told you about the vision, that there will be a large attack by demons. I saw nothing about myself this time."
Seifer spared a moment to judge the brunet's sincerity before he sighed and moved such that his arms hung limply over the smaller man's shoulders in a loose hug. "Why can't you just tell me shit? I can't help you if I don't know what is wrong."
"I don't need to be helped," Squall stated tersely.
"Right. Keep telling yourself that, kitten."
After a time of simply standing there close together, the seer broke the silence. "Once we reach the town, try not to speak our names."
Leaning back, Seifer stared at the brunet. "Why should that matter? Have we been to this town before?"
"The beldame should be near. It wouldn't be wise to draw attention to ourselves before you are ready."
Noticing that his question hadn't be answered directly, the blond frowned but didn't press the matter. Instead, he leaned down to gently kiss the blind man. "I don't know why I still care about you when you seem to take great pleasure in irritating the hell out of me."
Pale lips formed a soft smile. "It's only what you deserve."
"Is that so? Well, I think I've been rather good lately..."
Easily catching the hint, Squall breathed a chuckle before raising up on the balls of his feet. His first attempt of initiating a kiss landed on Seifer's stubble covered cheek, which the large man didn't mind as soft lips brushed along his skin to eventually locate his mouth parted in a silent moan. While stealing kisses was a favorite hobby of the fighter, Seifer greatly enjoyed the touches and kisses directed by the once skittish man. It was always amusing to the blond to see how much more daring his kitten could be with the proper motivation, and Squall was never one to disappoint. As their kiss deepened further, Seifer hummed at the tongue play he had missed in the previous days, and despite their waterlogged surroundings, he was tempted to 'accidentally' trip the smaller man to the muddy ground and find a better way to enjoy the ugly afternoon.
At the intruding voice, Squall jerked away from the kiss and promptly looked in the opposite direction of the stranger. Removing his arms from the seer, Seifer stepped to the side to better face the person and to free his sword arm in case of a fight. Green eyes narrowed on the darkly clothed man who stood at the edge of the meadow. The stranger was a large man, briefly reminding Seifer of the giant he had faced in the tournament in Correna, but this man was slightly smaller in height and frame. Most identifying of the man was a long scar which started at his hairline, trailed down past his icy blue eyes, and dropped off at the edge of his strong chin. Contrasting the man's brutish appearance, the stranger held a warm smile and stood in an unthreatening stance as he briefly examined the men before him.
"Sorry to interrupt," the large man said in a gruff voice filled with amusement, "but the storm should be breaking anytime now, and we get rather bad lightning in these parts. With the town hardly a mile away, it doesn't make any sense for you to stand out here like a couple of lightning rods."
Still suspicious of the stranger, Seifer asked, "And what of yourself, wandering around in this weather?"
Amusement lost to a sorrowful expression, the blue-eyed man said, "My services were required to bless a woman's sending."
It was then the fighter recognized the dark clothing hidden beneath the man's cloak. "You're a priest of Hyne."
The stranger chuckled. "And you think I don't look the part, do you?"
Hiding his surprise, Seifer glanced back at his seer, wondering if it was safe to trust the supposed priest when Squall was branded as a lost soul. While the blind man had mentioned seeking aid from the Church in the past, he seemed to be adverse toward the priests and the religion associated with the Bukre du Hieghen. In all their time together, Seifer never thought to question what it meant to be a 'lost soul' beyond what the fighter knew of such people being beyond the salvation of Hyne.
"If you would like a guide to town--"
"We're fine," Seifer answered promptly, already considering an alternate route north. But a hand settled on his arm, stopping the blond from saying anything further.
"I'd like to be dry tonight," Squall stated softly.
"And it's been too long since I visited a Church of Hyne," the seer said promptly while squeezing the arm in his hold. "Let him take us to town."
Recognizing his lack of choice in the matter, Seifer sighed in defeat while looking to the large man. "Does your offer still stand."
The stranger smiled fondly. "Of course. I'm always happy to meet other followers of Hyne," he said while directing to the necklace at his chest.
Reminded of his own silver pendant, the fighter covered it with a gloved hand. "I don't care for Hyne, actually."
"Is that so?" the priest said with little surprise. "Well, either way, we shouldn't stand out here much longer. Some hot tea will be waiting for us at the Church."
As the three left the wide meadow, the priest introduced himself as Ward Zabac, the name meaning nothing to the blond fighter. The large man didn't question when the travelers didn't offer their names in return, nor did he seem to care that Seifer made certain to place himself between the priest and blind man. Instead, Ward asked about their travels, the man satisfied with vague details as the fighter spoke about things he noticed further south as compared to the northern realms. Several times the large man had names for the plants and birds Seifer had wanted to describe to the blind man, and the fighter momentarily forgot himself as the priest better explained the unique features of the unusual flowers and creatures. And unlike many people they had come across, Ward appeared unbothered by the sightless eyes which occasionally glanced his way.
In short time, a large building came into view from behind tall trees, roofs of other buildings eventually seen at a distance from the Church. The friendly nature of the priest had lowered Seifer's defenses, but the sight of the Church made his stride stiff with tension as renewed worry for Squall overcame him. Nearing the building, Ward stepped ahead to unlock the large doors of the Church.
"Pull your blade."
Confused by the hissed out command, Seifer stared at the seer who had removed his hand from the fighter's arm and was stepping backward with an uncertain expression. "Why? Is it the priest?" the blond asked quietly.
Squall shook his head. "Hurry. Something is coming."
With a gloved hand at the hilt of his sword, the blond searched his surroundings for any threat that could have alerted the blind man. Abruptly, the hairs at the back of his neck rose and his skin felt cold in anticipation. It was the sight of a broad shadow in his peripheral vision that made Seifer react, his blade held before him in a defensive position. Green eyes barely identified the form of a flying demon about the size and shape of a large dog before it crashed into him. Forced to the ground, Seifer held his sword above his face to prevent trashing teeth from touching him, but the thick saliva of the beast splattered onto his face, making his skin feel oddly cold and numb. Without any action on the blond's part, the demon abruptly moved away with a yelping cry, freeing Seifer to quickly push up into a crouching position. Dumbly he stared at the large priest who still held onto the creature's tail with two hands, something the beast obviously didn't like.
"This isn't your place, demon," Ward stated with a deep scowl, appearing the warrior Seifer first believed the man to be.
The dog-like beast howled in reply, its dark-gray feathered wings abruptly flapping with full expansion before it took flight, the priest unable to keep his hold on the fur covered tail. The flight of the beast didn't last long as it quickly dropped to the ground in order to attack its tormentor. Though able to cover his face, Ward couldn't guard his chest from thick claws and his arm held no protection against sharp fangs. Seifer being on his feet since the moment the beast made to escape into flight, the blond man slammed into the large dog-like creature, the rescuing attempt pulling a loud groan from the priest as flesh was torn from his body. The fighter rolled with the beast several feet until both laid on the muddy ground, only one breathing.
Slowly, Seifer sat up while still gripping onto the dagger buried deep into the skull of the dark creature. His breaths hard and shaky, the blond was reluctant to remove the silver blade, but he felt in his blood that the beast was dead and wouldn't harm the seer standing only paces away. His dagger removed with some effort, Seifer stood up while continuing to stare at the creature, and then gave the corpse a hard kick for good measure.
"Seifer, help me."
Turning at the distraught voice, the fighter watched as Squall helped the injured priest into a slumped seating position. Quickly sheathing his dagger and dropped sword, Seifer walked to the blind man's side and wrapped his arms beneath the muscular arms of the large priest. Purposefully avoiding the sight of bone visible from the removal of flesh at the man's lower arm, the blond dragged Ward to the Church entrance.
"Your name... is Seifer...?"
"Yeah," the fighter replied in a grunt, wishing the man wasn't as heavy as he looked.
"Sorry," the priest murmured. "I can't... feel my legs..."
"The Wegnis has a numbing poison," Squall stated while opening the doors to the Church. "It'll fade."
Ward forced a laugh. "Too bad it was... a Cainse who attacked me..."
Seifer paused in his task to stare at the man. "You know about these creatures?"
"I'm a priest, boy," the blue-eyed man stated tiredly before coughing in a pained manner.
"Hurry, Seifer. I can still treat him."
Broken out of his daze, the fighter pulled the large man over the threshold and laid him down in the middle of the main aisle, the only apparent section of the expansive room covered by a rug. Once closing the doors, Squall made his way to the priest's side and quickly removed his gloves before placing his hands on the man's chest. Ward winced at the pressure placed on his injuries, but his sharp blue eyes soon focused on the brunet kneeling above him. In a shaky move, he raised his uninjured arm and grabbed onto the hood of the seer before pulling it back to reveal the man's face.
"Blessed Hyne..." Ward whispered as his hand settled on the blind man's cheek.
Lightly grabbing that hand, Squall pulled it away and placed it back down onto the floor before looking in Seifer's approximate position. "There will be more demons soon. Tell people to come here for safety, and..." The seer paused before resuming in a vaguely pleading tone, "And help those who choose to fight the demons. They can't win without you."
Though wishing he could ask Squall what he truly wanted and receive a truthful answer in reply, Seifer instead nodded his consent, and then remembered the blind man wouldn't see the gesture. "I don't normally like playing the hero, but I'll do it this once. For you."
Pale lips formed a soft, relieved smile. "Be safe. Don't do anything stupid."
Scoffing, Seifer stepped toward the entrance. "If going outside to willing face a horde of winged mutts isn't stupid, then you have a really fucked up definition in mind." Just before opening the door, the blond glanced back at his seer. "See you later, kitten. And I better get a reward for being a good boy."
The careful smile widened further before Squall nodded faintly, his attention then directed to the injured man. Sparing a final look at the lovely face set into a serious expression of concentration, Seifer opened the large door and stepped outside to be greeted with drizzling rain. Not knowing when the invasion was to come and preferring to save his energy, the blond walked with his natural stride to the center of town, his senses on high alert despite his casual appearance. And so, when a woman cried out in a shrieking call for help, Seifer was sprinting to her location without a moment to spare.
Green eyes narrowed at the sight of a young woman covering a small boy with her body, the pair trapped against the side of a building as two of the dog-like creatures slowly approached them with laughing growls. Coming from behind, Seifer was able to close the distance between him and the beasts before he was noticed and one of the mutts turned around sharply. But it was already too late for the dark creature as the sword of silver and white gold was drawn, easily separating the dog's head from its body when it had launched forward to attack. Hearing the growl of the other beast, Seifer stopped hard and stepped backward in time to avoid the attack winged dog as it flew past him. Swinging his blade with both hands, the blond sliced the beast down the middle and smirked at the howling wail of the slowly dying mutt.
Abruptly, the surprised cry of a child made Seifer turn around instantly, just in time to see the incoming attack of another airborne beast. Unable to react in time, the blond stared helplessly at the wide mouth of sharp fangs as it came closer, but in the last moment, the creature was diverted by a blur of motion, the winged dog letting out a yelping cry of pain. Dumbly, Seifer looked toward the fallen beast and stared at the darkly skinned man leaning his weight on the mutt as his twin blades buried further into the body covered in black fur.
"Are you alright?"
Seifer turned at the concerned voice, coming eye-to-eye with a man of long dark hair and forest green eyes. "Yeah..."
The longhaired man smiled broadly in relief. "Thank Hyne. That one nearly had you." Extending his hand, the man said, "The name is Laguna. Laguna Loire. I'm the unofficial mayor around here, so on behalf--"
Hearing the now familiar whisper of feathers, Seifer grabbed onto the offered hand and jerked the man off balance such that he fell to the muddied ground. Promptly kneeling over the fallen man, the fighter swung his sword in an upward arch, the tip of the blade slicing through the belly of another beast as it flew past to eventually drop to the ground with a pained whine and spilt intestines.
Once again on his feet with his sword at the ready, Seifer glared down at the longhaired man. "No time for pleasantries. Someone needs to spread the word for people to hide at the Church until this attack ends."
The darkly skinned man of before walked with a dancer's grace as he approached the mud-covered man and offered him a hand in standing. "You should be more careful, 'Guna."
The longhaired man scoffed in reply, but with humor instead of the irritation most others would show. "Since when have I ever been careful? That's why I keep you and Ward around." Glancing at the blond, Laguna smiled softly. "And it appears Hyne likes to bless me with all of the protection I may need."
Seifer frowned, not liking the idea that he was sent here by Hyne to save some idiot. But before he could vocalize such thoughts, another scream sounded from further within the town. Already running in that direction, the fighter yelled back to the strange duo, "Get people to the fucking Church!" Not waiting for their response, Seifer focused his attention ahead and murmured to himself, "You owe me big, Squally-boy. You aren't going to walk for a fucking week when I'm done with you."
His breaths ragged and his green eyes wild with energy, Seifer leaned heavily on the hilt of his sword where it had pierced through the scaly chest of a demon for which he had no name. It was larger than a Worgein, and impossibly faster as well, but he had still managed to kill the overgrown beast by his power alone. Unfortunately, its defeat came after the creature had slaughtered several men, but the damage could have been far worse. Tired and no longer sensing the presence of unnatural demons, Seifer jerked on his blade with his good arm a few times before it slid free of the dark corpse. Moving from the dragon-like creature's chest, the fighter stumbled to the muddy ground before dropping to his knees in a limp pose. Trying to regain his breath, Seifer stared up at the nearly clear sky and focused on the full moon which provided adequate light over the damp town.
"Looks like you could use a hand."
Green eyes shifted to the speaker, the fighter not realizing he had an audience. "I'm fine."
The darkly skinned swordsman, 'Kiros' as he was called by the longhaired man, laughed lightly at the offended tone. "You'd get better rest at the Church where it's safer."
"And you'll need that arm looked at," stated Laguna, the man stepping out from a darkened section between buildings. "I've heard that we have a powerful healer visiting us. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you, stranger?"
"He's with me," Seifer muttered to confirm the man's suspicions, and then allowed the dark man to help him in standing. When the blond stumbled with his first step, he was grabbed by Kiros and forced to wrap his good arm around the man's shoulders.
"Then we are doubly blessed this day," Laguna said, his forest green eyes unable to hide the obvious sorrow he felt for the people lost to demons.
Seifer scoffed, resisting the urge to correct the man's beliefs, that they were instead cursed to have the Hero and Protector in their town. The blond could think of no other reason that the demons attacked such a normal town, but he wasn't about to share such information freely.
As they walked slowly toward the Church, Seifer listened as the two men discussed about those dead, injured and missing since the beginning of the attack earlier that day. It was at that moment Seifer wondered why these people weren't more panicked by the idea of demons attacking their town. When the Worgein had appeared in Griese, it had apparently caused quite the stir, word eventually reaching Drasberg that the prophets in the large city had declared that the creature was a messenger from Hell announcing the coming end to the world. After nearly a year of time, most people seemed to discount the visitation as an exaggerated tale about someone dressing up as a monster. But these people had been attacked by uncountable demons of numerous varieties, and the supposed mayor was treating the invasion like a group of thieves causing problems... Seifer was beginning to doubt his initial assessment that the town was a normal one.
The eventual sight of the Church made the exhausted fighter sigh in relief as he easily imagined curling up with his seer and falling fast asleep. Of course Squall would probably argue against being treated like a pillow, but Seifer had a feeling such complaints would be halfhearted at best if he had been playing healer all day long. Pulling his arm out from Kiros' hold, the fighter straightened in a show of strength and walked with unsteady steps to the entrance of the large building. When the doors opened on their own, Seifer was nearly knocked off his feet for the second time that day.
Opening a door further, Ward smiled at the unsteady fighter. "Sorry, boy. I was keeping watch up in the belfry when I saw the group of you coming this way. I thought I'd greet you all before you snuck away for a nap."
Before Seifer could think of a properly scathing response, Laguna stepped forward to place a hand on the large man. "Ward, I heard you were injured early on. Are you alright?"
Holding out an uninjured arm covered by tattered clothing, the priest nodded. "We've got a skilled healer inside. Frankly, I'm surprised to be alive, let alone being able to keep my arm."
"Then I certainly need to thank the man. Where is he?"
"Laguna," the large man stated quietly in a near whisper. "It's your son. He's come home."
His muddled mind unable to fully understand the information, Seifer stared dumbly as the longhaired man stood frozen in shock for a mere moment before bolting to enter the Church. But before more than a step was taken, Laguna's arm was grabbed by Kiros as he jerked the dark-haired man close.
"Don't speak his name," the swordsman hissed quietly. The man in his hold seemed to be in near panic to get away before he was shaken again by Kiros. "Laguna, listen to me. You know what these people will do to him."
Calm quickly settled over the longhaired man as he took a deep breath and nodded. "I'll try to restrain myself."
"Since when have you been capable of that."
The four men looked sharply at the tired voice, all startled by the appearance of Squall leaning against the doorframe opposite to Ward. Seifer smiled faintly at the sight of his seer, but before he could move, Laguna took a large step forward and immediately wrapped his arms around the slightly shorter man. The fighter's vision immediately snapped to black and white as he felt erratic energy building within him. While considering the ways to kill the man holding onto his seer, Seifer was startled by a choked voice.
"Father... I'm sorry..."
With a shaky step backward, Seifer blinked and his vision returned to normal as he gazed upon father and son. Ache burned through his chest at the sight as memories returned to him of Squall's confession that everything he did was to save his father, to protect that man's future. And then there was the seer's statement that a 'right future' involved the safety of his father, not the chance for the Hero and Protector to remain together. All the promises and words spoken since then suddenly meant nothing as Seifer watched the young man be held tightly by his father.
"I'm fine. Seifer has watched over me."
"Seifer...?" Laguna loosened his hold to lean back and look at the blond in surprise. "You mean Seifer Almasy? Alexei's boy?"
Green eyes went wide at the familiar name, the forgotten name of his father. Seifer swore he could hear the sound of shattering glass as a flash of pain flared in his skull. Holding a hand to his forehead, he stepped backward as faded voices assaulted him. A woman was screaming in rage while a man yelled for her to stop, to drop the knife or else...
Seifer stumbled, but didn't fall as his injured arm was grabbed by surprisingly strong hand, the immediate agony of his pulled arm briefly clearing the fighter's mind. But looking into concerned dark green eyes, a new memory flooded Seifer's thoughts and senses, and suddenly he was in a meadow bright with sunlight. A large man of blond hair stood before him, crying freely as he apologized and drove a silver dagger into his broad chest without hesitation. With dark green eyes narrowed in pain and sorrow, the man promptly removed the weapon with a spray of blood, and Seifer felt the heated wetness on his face. The dagger then was dropped onto Seifer's lap as the man smiled weakly and said something unintelligible before slumping to the ground in death, his eyes no longer seeing the world before him...
Blinking, the blond was startled by the sudden darkness of night, his eyes adjusting to see Squall reaching for him. Seifer wanted to grab onto that hand, but instead he was falling backward, his arm hurting once more as it slipped out from Laguna's hold. Landing on the ground, Seifer stared down at the watery mud beneath his bent legs, and green eyes widened as blood slowly flowed into the small puddles of rain water. Glancing up, there was no longer the four men of before, but a small boy of dark hair curled slightly as he clutched onto his wounded chest. Pale blue-gray eyes were open but glazed over with death, unseeing and unmoving.
"No," Seifer whispered in an odd voice and reached forward to cradle the boy close to him, surprised to find his own body small and weak. But it didn't matter as tears slipped from his eyes. "Don't die. You can't die. I don't want you die, so you can't die."
Abruptly there was a bright light of soft blue, soon followed by agonizing screams from the boy in his hold. But Seifer didn't let go, he couldn't let go as he held the trashing boy closer. And like that, the light grew brighter and the screams grew louder until suddenly there was no more.
Groaning, Seifer carefully opened his eyes to stare up at a darkened ceiling. Slowly he became aware of a gentle touch at his head as careful fingers stroked through his short hair. Reclosing his eyes and humming with a near purr, the blond savored the cool energy flowing through him with healing power.
"Are you awake?"
Seifer grinned at the soft voice of his seer, but then frowned as he remembered how he spent the day battling more demons than he could count. How he had gotten from outside to his current state, the fighter hadn't a clue. "What happened?"
"You were apparently ready for your memories to return."
His eyelids snapping open, Seifer stared at nothing while he remembered the strange visions before his blackout. Nearly overwhelmed once more, he reached for Squall's hand and pulled the man down such that startled brunet rested on his chest while being held tightly by strong arms. Burying his face against the long neck, Seifer spoke against cool skin.
Squall carefully pulled back a short distance. "What was that again?"
"I fucking hate it when you're right," the fighter muttered before renewing the close contact. "I don't want these memories. I'm not ready yet."
Seifer laughed bitterly at the confident air of the man. "How long was I unconscious?"
"A few hours at most. Ward carried you up here and I healed your arm. It was stupid of you to let the bite of a Cainse to go untreated for so long."
Ignoring the scolding tone of the blind man, Seifer became aware of his filthy state of being covered in dried mud and blood. His nose wrinkled in disgust, he asked, "Is there a bath in this place?"
"It's being used by others. Many people are staying in the Church over night to be protected from the demons. They don't believe my father when he assures them that the demons won't return."
"And how are you certain they won't?"
"It was a poor attempt by the beldame to kill you, and it failed."
"How does that imply she won't do this again out of spite?"
"Demons are difficult to control. It takes years of patience for a sorceress to tame a demon into her service, even for a powerful sorceress like Adel." Squall shifted to free his hand and lightly stroke a finger along warm skin. "In other words, you killed most of her beloved pets and she won't want to risk them further when this attack held no benefit to her."
Seifer chuckled at the idea of upsetting the sorceress, silently swearing to mention the slaughter of her demons the next time they met face-to-face. "At least that is some good news."
Comfortable silence followed after that, the green-eyed man enjoying the heavy weight of the seer resting on his chest. While focused on the brunet, it was a simple matter to drive away the memories he didn't want to deal with just yet. Instead Seifer thought about the small boy of wide pale eyes, shy smiles, and numerous stories. It was hard to believe that the two people were the same person, but one had only begun life and still held fresh innocence, while the older form had experienced several lifetimes worth of hardships, his naive beliefs shattered to pieces.
Looking into heavily lidded eyes, the blond smiled at the young man. "Yes?"
"I need to thank you for protecting Father and Kiros today."
At a sudden realization, Seifer laughed lightly. "How about that. You kept me alive to save you father from some gruesome death, and it looks like your hard work finally pulled off."
Squall frowned at the comment. "I told you that my motives changed."
"So you say, but I'll bet that your father is still your priority."
The seer hesitated before shaking his head. "You made things difficult. Once I could choose between you two, but now... it's hard to decide on a future when I could lose either of you depending on the path. It's stupid, but I..."
Staring into sightless eyes, Seifer couldn't prevent his broad smile at the man's conflict. "You what?"
Squall huffed before turning over such that he faced away from the interested gaze. Then, in a quiet voice that was clearly not meant to be heard, the blind man replied, "I need you."
Pretending that he hadn't heard the words, Seifer placed a hand into thick hair and lightly ran his fingers through the dark strands. Despite his exhaustion and his headache from released memories, the Hero felt a hidden part of him healed and strengthened by the simple words. At that moment, he felt ready to destroy anything that would threaten his current state of happiness with the man curled up on his chest, already asleep judging by the steady breaths and limp pose. Carefully, as to not wake the resting man, Seifer reached for the seer's left arm, but then frowned when he encountered a bandage covering the slim wrist. Running his thumb along the soft cloth, he vaguely remembered the words of the darkly skinned man, that people would do something to Squall if they knew who he was.
"Why do you have to make life so difficult?"
Squall shifted in his sleep with a quiet grumble as if responding that it wasn't his fault.
Smiling at the exhausted seer, Seifer continued to run his fingers through thick hair. "Sleep well, kitten. I'm going to need your strength to stop me from doing something stupid in the morning."
Author's Whining -- And finally I reach the point in the story that I first thought up over a year ago. I swear, this was supposed to happen several chapters ago, but other characters kept coming out of the woodworks, demanding for their parts in the story. It's pathetic. I also blame Squall and Seifer for their sudden mood shifts. I haven't a freaking clue what was wrong with Seifer this chapter. While writing him, the song 'Unwell' by Matchbox 20 kept coming to mind.
Anywho, congrats on reading this long chapter, which is just short enough that I didn't want to break it up into two chapters, and sadly is shorter than the previous chapter. While I hope this makes up for my long absence, I really need to stop writing such long chapters to this story. =P
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