*sigh* Love reviewers... love being evil...
WARNING: Yaoi in the story as a whole, and shounen-ai in this chapter (nothing explicit). If you don't like it, don't read it.
DISCLAIMER: They're not mine and they never will be. I'm just borrowing them for a while. I promise to return them in the condition in which I found them (tee-hee...).
Chapter Twelve - Of the Preachers of Death
Seifer opened the door, walked into Squall's bedroom and stopped mid-stride. No Squall. He'd told himself over and over again that the brunet had probably decided to take a nap after showering. That could be the only reason he hadn't come back to work on the files with Seifer and Selphie. But he wasn't here.
Seifer scanned the room again and relaxed a trifle when he saw Squall's jacket lying on the window seat. Unlikely that he would have gone off without it. Were there any other signs of his presence? There was a piece of paper by the bed that hadn't been there earlier; presumably Squall had dropped it. The bathroom door was closed. Seifer couldn't hear the shower spray but this was Esthar and every piece of machinery was as quiet and unobtrusive as possible. He glanced at the twilight sky beyond the window and walked over to the door. Sure enough, there wasn't a light on in the bathroom. He rapped on the door. "Squall? You in here?"
There was a rustle from the room beyond. "Hold on. I'm coming."
"I'm not going anywhere." Seifer strolled round to the other side of the bed. That piece of paper had evidently fallen off one piece of furniture or other. It was almost hidden under the draping edge of the quilt. He bent and picked it up.
He caught his breath. It wasn't a sheet of paper, but a sealed envelope. Addressed to him. And it wasn't Squall's handwriting.
He glanced back at the bathroom door - still closed; good - and tweaked the envelope open, curious rather than concerned over what could be in it. Some note Squall had picked up from wherever their mail got dumped and brought back for him, no doubt. The letter was short, a single small piece of paper. A note from Meiroth?
Seifer turned the paper round and froze.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW WHAT YOU DID WHILE YOUR PET LION WAS ASLEEP?
Scribbled under the note was a date. One that had been burnt into Seifer's mind ever since Zell had given him a diary of what he'd done while Ultimecia had had him brainwashed. It was the date Seifer had tortured Squall in the Galbadian prison.
What the fuck else did I do that day? Come on, Seifer, think. That won't work. You know you can't remember. Zell might know; maybe I could call him? But maybe he didn't want to bother me with unnecessary details...or did I torture him too? Shit. I hate this. That bitch Ultimecia. It might have been better to know what she made me do, even if I couldn't stop any of it - no. No, it would not be better to know how often I made Squall scream.
Someone wants to frighten me into pulling out of Esthar, don't they? It's got to have something to do with all of this. They're threatening to tell Squall what I did unless we give up and go home.
But how can anyone else know, when I don't? They had to be involved, but I can't tell who they are from that because I didn't know what was happening...fuck this. I'll get nowhere by thinking about it.
Had Squall been sent a letter too? Seifer stuck his note into his pocket and dropped down onto the floor, looking under both the bed and the bedside cabinet. Nothing. I'm flattered.
He straightened up just before Squall opened the bathroom door. "Sorry," he said almost inaudibly as he came into the bedroom. "I took a bath and I fell asleep."
"Good for you; you skipped a couple hours of -" He broke off when he finally took his eyes off the towel wrapped round Squall's body and saw Squall's face. He was about the same colour as his pristine satin sheets. His eyes were fixed on the carpet but Seifer could have sworn they were bloodshot. Squall wasn't walking with his usual crisp stride but was dragging his feet along the floor like they were too heavy to move effectively. "What is it, honey?" he asked, hurrying round to Squall.
"I'm OK. Just tired. And I've got a headache."
He got headaches when he was upset. If he hadn't made the connection yet, Seifer had. "Come sit down a moment," he invited, laying a hand on his arm and motioning him towards the bed.
Squall flinched, but nodded. They sat down together and Squall inched closer to Seifer almost hesitantly. Seifer started to wonder what in hell's name was wrong, then kicked himself and wondered how long the list of things that were wrong now was. He put an arm round his boyfriend. That got him more worried. The normally pliant, soft body was stiff, as if Squall were the statue people compared him to. He considered asking what was wrong again, but rephrased it to, "What are you thinking about?"
"Things." When Seifer squeezed him, he expanded that to, "The mission."
"It seems fucked up now, but something'll change. It always does."
Squall didn't answer for a moment. Then he said, "I don't know how to feel - Seifer? What would you think if someone betrayed SeeD?"
Seifer exhaled softly. So that was it. He was cut up over how the traitors in the EIC had sold and killed their colleagues. "Well, I'd be angry, of course. I'd have a right to be, if one of my friends had broken trust with everyone on our side and done what our enemies wanted."
"Uh-huh." If anything, Squall drooped even more. He drew a breath like he had something more to say, but just let it back out again and leant his head on Seifer's shoulder. "I love you very much," he said almost inconsequentially.
"And I love you right back," and he bent to capture his boyfriend's lips with his own. Squall opened his mouth to him but didn't quite respond in his usual manner. Nothing too hard to understand there. After a moment he pulled away and curled up in Seifer's arms like he wanted comfort. That was something that was so easy to give to him.
"Do you know the suspects?" Seifer asked him.
He was startled at the question, Seifer knew. "I've no idea. In the field we use code names. I've never worked at HQ. I know some agents, but I don't know their real identities."
"So it's just the general betrayal thing that's got you upset."
"Yeah." He softened in Seifer's embrace again.
Seifer stroked Squall's forehead, running his fingers over the scar. Squall stiffened again for a second before leaning into his hand, like he hadn't expected anything like that from his lover. "You're tired," Seifer realised.
"You should take a nap."
"I can't. I should get busy."
"Catching up on what you and Selphie were doing -"
"There's nothing to catch up. We came up with nothing on the bank statements and we haven't got any lifestyle information yet. It won't make any difference running through it all again." Squall didn't answer, just started staring off into space. "Squall. Talk out loud," and Seifer shook him gently.
Squall started. Seifer pulled back; for a second he saw something like anger in the younger man's eyes. Then the illusion passed. "We need to talk to them."
"Get their views on some of this shit before going out into the field to check if their stories match what really happened? It's an idea. Now how are we going to talk to them without getting them suspicious?"
"I don't know." Squall sounded annoyed Seifer had asked his opinion. He dropped back among the pillows. Seifer lay down beside him, unable to enjoy the peace and the moment. When Squall was acting up and they had too many spies to check out -
"I got an idea." Squall didn't say anything, but the way he tilted his head towards Seifer made it clear that he wanted more. "We make it out like we're talking to the whole of the EIC in groups of seven or eight at a time. Make the five main suspects go in the second lot we interview, and throw in a couple of people we know didn't have anything to do with it. We find out where their stories don't match with each other or with the official records. We keep going for a couple of days, then leave someone else to it - Meiroth, anyone - and head out to check things over."
Squall's eyes narrowed. "Might work."
The more Seifer thought about it the more he thought they might get somewhere with the plan. If they got that sorted he would only have Squall's strange behaviour to cope with. But thinking about Squall and the way it looked like he was keeping something from Seifer made him remember how much he didn't want to mention his anonymous letter to Squall. The sick feeling he got whenever he thought about the Second Sorceress War threatened to return full force. To make it go away he kissed Squall, who acted about as responsive as a dead stick. Maybe he was just exhausted.
"I'll go and talk to Kiros and Laguna about this," he said to Squall. And about who had the opportunity to leave notes in our bedroom. "You go to sleep."
He didn't seem enthusiastic. "I don't need it -"
"Come on, don't be so stubborn. You keep waking up in the middle of the night. It's not surprising you're tired. Close your eyes and rest, or I'll cast Sleep on you."
"It'll bounce." But Squall wriggled under the covers, discarding the towel at the last possible opportunity, and closed his eyes like he actually meant to take Seifer's advice. Seifer stayed beside him till he was on the verge of dropping off, then he padded out of the room, locking the door behind him.
It wasn't that he felt the need to keep secrets from Squall. Actually, he corrected himself, that was just what it was, but it wasn't a meaningless or senseless need for privacy. Squall was hurting, and he didn't know why and he didn't want to make it worse by accident. When the daft boy wouldn't tell him what the matter was, he couldn't be certain that any word might not be the one to spark off a crisis. Mentioning the Ultimecia affair - which Squall felt ridiculously responsible for, as if he could have made the sorceress stop possessing Seifer - might be the fatal trigger.
But how can I tell if he won't talk to me? It's not like I was there when he went haywire. And nobody else paid the boy a blind bit of attention.
Laguna. His father. If he's any kind of parent at all he'll have noticed when the change happened. If he can tell me something, anything I can work from - maybe Squall just needs confronting with the truth, or part of the truth, and then he'll come out with the rest of it and I'll tell him he's worrying over nothing and everything'll be all right again. I mean, it's not like there's any chance he could have done something seriously wrong to have this guilt-trip about. It'll be something like a SeeD getting killed in action and Squall just taking it personally. It's got to be that.
He picked up the pace, hurrying through the Palace to Laguna's office. Selphie was sitting on guard outside, looking bored: Seifer hurried past her before she could engage him in conversation. He would be there all day if that happened.
Laguna and Kiros were in the office together. Seifer praised his rare good fortune and took the opportunity to run his idea past both of them at once, glossing over the detail that they didn't intend to interrogate every agent out there and ignoring the fact that there were only five people they were really interested in. It wasn't like the President and his chief minister didn't know that already. The two men kind of agreed with Seifer, especially when he produced the letter and went through the explanation of how he had no idea what the writer was talking about. As Laguna said, if the double agents had got to the point of compromising themselves by breaking into people's bedrooms, the SeeDs had to be getting close to the truth. Calling the interview session would only confirm that - it would not tell the enemy anything new. Kiros volunteered to get the whole thing set up with Meiroth and Palace Security for the morning.
"And I'll get the footage from the security cameras in the corridor outside your room," he added. "I seriously doubt the camera won't have been tampered with - but we might discover when and by whom."
"Thanks." Seifer's gaze crossed from Kiros to Laguna. "There's something else I need to talk about," he said more quietly. "I don't think it matters where we are." He jerked his head towards the security tap. "It's about Squall. I wasn't at Garden straight after the war ended. I turned up there nine months ago - by which time he was the antisocial little bastard we all know so well. But I know he changed, after Ultimecia. When did he change back? It's not even changing back, he's worse than he ever was when we were kids. I'm getting real worried about him."
"You aren't the only one," Laguna muttered. "Don't tell him this."
"Don't tell him what?"
"Elle's so worried she tried to go into his dreams and find out what happened to him. She couldn't get in. She could have taken him back to the past, but when she's doing that she can normally sort through someone's memories and find out things. He'd blocked that bit of his mind off from her. She reckons he's blocked it off from himself and she got stuck by accident." The President of Esthar scowled. "She said he's telling himself he's not allowed to enjoy anything anymore because of something he did. Just thinking about that kind of stuff freaks me out."
Me too, Laguna. Me too...
Laguna stared off into space. "Before Storm turned two. Has to be; he was already acting up then. But not too long before. No more than a few months. Kiros?"
"I can't remember anything exact," he admitted. "But you've kind of hit it."
"Garden keeps records of where SeeDs are sent," Seifer mused. "I couldn't get hold of his records, unless I broke into his filing cabinet. But I could get one of the instructors to request the whole file of 'L's to look up someone else. Quisty teaches tactics sometimes. And Zell runs the martial arts classes. They'd help me."
"Do you think it's something that you'd find in his records?" Kiros asked.
"Maybe. I was thinking it might be something like a death he feels responsible for. He assigns every SeeD to missions - and he's not too cut up most of the time when someone doesn't come back - so if it was something like that it must be someone who fucked up under his direct command. And if it wasn't that it's probably some other minor screw-up he made on the job that's getting to him."
"Not something personal, like his break-up with Rinoa?"
Seifer snorted. "I asked Quistis about that as soon as I got to Garden. She says it was the other way round. Rinoa dumped him because he got like this. Might have made him a bit worse, but it didn't cause it." He shook his head. He loved Quistis dearly, and he still had more than a soft spot for Rinoa, but they were both dim as cake candles sometimes. How Rinoa could have left him when he clearly needed her - how Quistis could have watched it happening and failed to offer Squall any support, when by her own admission she knew he needed it...
It wasn't something he was likely to understand any time soon. Not that he could ever understand how anybody could manipulate or short-change or hurt his wonderful Squall.
"He was in Esthar part of the time you're talking about," Laguna supplied. "Working for EIC. You want to ask Meiroth for his mission records."
"That's not much help; his records are -"
"Seifer?" Laguna said, startled, when he stopped talking.
"Squall's mission records are incomplete. The missing stuff's from round about that time. But Selphie and I asked him about it earlier. He made it out to be nothing important."
Kiros and Laguna glanced at each other. "Fifty gil says he wasn't telling the truth," the President offered.
Kiros shook his dark head. "That'd be the easiest fifty you ever earned."
"He can't be involved!" exclaimed Seifer.
"Not unless it's in a very minor capacity, no. He hasn't been here enough. But I remember something going wrong at about that time - it could have been that mission."
Seifer shook his head. "Squall wouldn't get freaked out just by noticing someone had sabotaged the show. There's got to be something more. But I don't want to pressure him, he'll just get mad at me, and he doesn't want to talk."
"He might have to." There wasn't the trace of a smile on Laguna's face. "It can wait - maybe - till after you get things started. But watch him every moment you can tomorrow. See if anything shakes him." He pulled over his diary. "I'm free part of the day. I might just sit in on all this."
Kiros studied him. "You think we might get something?"
"Half a clue that we can look into. Or maybe more. You never know."
(to be continued...)
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