Seifer had a very good memory of the last time there had been breakfast in bed. To be honest, he easily remembered the last few times. He'd done it for Squall first, and the other man had kept remarking - with dry surprise - that he actually could cook things that didn't end up tasting like day-old dead Marlboro, until Seifer told him to go soak his head.
And when Squall had returned the favor - as best he could - and things had been all right until Zell had remarked that he couldn't imagine what blackened scrambled eggs must have tasted like and Seifer said it didn't matter, there were better uses for Squall's hands anyway and Squall had flung a scoop of whatever they were eating at him and they had both snickered like idiots while tossing out lewder and lewder comments until Zell told them both to soak their heads.
It was a good memory. It defined a lot of the man he thought he was, a lot more of a person he realized he wouldn't mind being. Squall could always do that to him, with no effort at all.
Apart, they really were all right, managing well enough in normal situations, able to leap tall dangers with a single facial expression. It was only together that all that tended to fall apart into 'Exceptionally Unwise Choices' and horrible experiments with Irvine's styling gel. For the life of him Seifer would never realize why fate had tossed Rinoa to the side and decided that the two of them together was the proper course of action.
Maybe because Rinoa wouldn't have known what to do, if her life with Squall had been relatively normal - as it would have been, had she stayed sane and stayed with him - only to wake up one morning to a man who had no idea why he was there. A man who quickly put the sharpened edge of a gunblade in the space where explanations should have been.
He'd been thrown off the bed by Squall's unexpected wakeup, landing hard against the wall, his shoulder already conferring with the floor about how big the bruise was going to be, and that yes, it would take up the pattern from the molding in the wall. By the time he got to his feet, Hyperion was already pointed at his heart, though really Squall could hit him just about anywhere at this range and he'd be reduced to a bloody smear on the wall.
... and Seifer realized he'd die wearing that stupid look of surprise that always had him swearing he'd die by Firaga first.
"Why was I - what are you - what the /fuck/?!" Seifer nearly smiled despite himself, he could count on one hand the times he'd seen Squall so upset, when he couldn't even manage one of his pre-loaded responses.
"I can explain. Calm down, Squall. I can explain everything."
Hands up, palms out, keeping his eyes fixed on Squall's. Headmasters did not kill unarmed men, even former enemies, even when they woke up next to them in the middle of the night.
It had seemed a good idea, Seifer thought, to always be so paranoid, to never keep his weapon out of arm's reach. Until now, knowing that his gunblade was loaded and Squall had taken the safety off without even thinking about it. He shifted slightly and watched steel-blue eyes narrow dangerously, hand tightening on the trigger.
"You know, you shouldn't use that thing unless you're ready to fire it."
Oh yes, they could both win moron-of-the-year awards, just in different categories. Invite Zell and it would be a sweep.
"Seifer... what are you, why do - what the hell /happened/ to you?"
Squall was looking at him as if his second head had grown a second head and was singing the high part of the Trabia Garden official anthem . He could only begin to guess where and when Squall thought he was, could only hope he knew how to help.
"I'm going to call Quistis, all right?" A good decision, Squall relaxed slightly at the familiar name. Seifer shifted slowly to the side, grateful the phone was on a horizontal, Squall seemed determined to keep the same distance between them at all costs. The blade stayed trained on him, but he said nothing, just watched as Seifer picked it up and dialed.
Quistis answered on the second ring. It was barely four a.m. If he lived to be a hundred, he would never understand how she did it. She even had the nerve to sound wide awake.
"It's Seifer. Squall's awake."
The sound of something rustling, she was probably standing up now, maybe even getting dressed one-handed. "Is he all right?"
"Feeling good enough to point a gunblade at me. Can you get down-" He didn't bother continuing, she'd already hung up, which left him to put down the phone and stare at Squall. A mostly clothed Squall, and a mostly naked him.
"Mind if I get some pants on before she comes in?"
Squall hadn't noticed, or it just hadn't sunk in, and Seifer had to snicker as he blushed, nodding and averting his eyes just slightly - cute, if more than a little alarming. He couldn't remember the last time anything he'd done had provoked that reaction.
Squall stayed silent as he fished his pants out from halfway under the bed, the gunblade slowly dropping to his side but no less dangerous for it. His gaze wandered around the room when Seifer didn't move, trying and obviously failing to orient himself.
"We... well, you moved up a few floors. It's the east side of the Garden. Has a better view."
"Just after the Timber-" Seifer paused. No way to know if Squall remembered that battle at all. "About ten years ago."
He could tell Squall was goggling at what he'd said and trying very hard not to show it. Trying very hard to do a lot of things - his skin was a shade too pale, and there was a slight sheen of sweat across his face.
Squall stopped immediately of course, the trademarked force of will shoring up whatever reserves of energy he lacked, but there was a flicker in his eyes, not just anger. Maybe he wasn't quite thinking of Seifer as the enemy, and just getting down to the business of being confused, and scared. It hurt to see fear in eyes like his. An almost imperceptible flick of the thumb slid the safety back on the gunblade, and his voice was soft, and barely steady.
"What the hell is going on?"
Seifer didn't have a chance to answer, before Quistis entered the room. At a diagonal, he could see out the door, Xu and Zell just a few paces behind, standing ready if something went wrong.
"Squall?" The gunblade snapped in her direction but quickly - thankfully - fell away, though he didn't seem grateful to see her at all.
"Quistis?" It was the face of someone who'd been expecting help, only to get punched in the gut instead. "... isn't real. You're... some sorceress' trick, has to be."
Mentioning an enemy two decades gone. Quistis glanced at him, but Seifer could only shrug slightly, with no idea what it might mean.
"Squall, I need you to listen to me." Before she turned twenty, Quistis had that authoritative voice down, enough that even Seifer had to force himself to ignore her. Now, she could strike fear in the hearts of any SeeD who made a misstep - or be the voice of reason, and calm in the center of a storm. Squall was staring at her, eyes darting across her face as if he had only a dim recollection, but it wasn't until her second step forward that he darted back. He looked across the room, a flash of light from outside catching in the mirror - and froze.
Hyperion slipped from his hand, hitting the carpet with a dull thud. Seifer felt his heart lurch, as Squall stared blankly at his own reflection.
"What... what happened... to me?"
"Squall, can you tell me what you remember?"
"I don't... can't - why the hell is everyone so /old/?!"
Zell snickered, couldn't help himself, and slowly came in when Squall turned toward the door.
"Zell?! What- /Zell/!?"
The fighter scowled, could see where he was staring, one hand rising self-consciously to where his hairline ought to have been.
"Rub it in, Squall, just rub it in."
"You're... you're fucking /bald/, man!"
"Well, he did try that toupee. Chicken-looking toupee."
"Shut the hell up, Seifer."
The mood had lightened unexpectedly, but Seifer had kept his eyes on Squall, and saw when his balance suddenly went off, panic or injury or some combination sending him down. Seifer had him easily, even before Zell could react, but missed the word that was muttered against his chest as Squall tried to regain his feet.
A hand wrapped tightly around his arm. "Bathroom. /Now/."
Ten minutes later, Squall was sprawled on the couch, head propped up by Seifer's left leg, sipping at the water Quistis had handed him to rinse his mouth out, swearing to himself never to eat before improperly junctioning a Guardian Force.
//So that's what I did...// Why his memories were damaged, or missing entirely. Why none of this was right, at all. He didn't bother to ask when - if - things would improve. Everyone looked too sober already.
"So you trust me now?"
More like he couldn't move enough to sit up on his own, although this older, more careful Seifer was an amazing thing to ponder. Still handsome too, although it took him more than a few moments each time he looked, to adjust what he had expected to what was real.
"I puked, you're still here. I'm being cautiously optimistic."
Zell snickered, somewhere just out of peripheral vision. An older Zell, much older. Quistis he could deal with, she had always seemed old far beyond her years, but...
At least he still moved like the Zell Squall remembered, and acted like him.
"What's changed?" An open-ended question, because this room in Garden looked the same, but beyond that...
Squall had been witness to a Lunar Cry, he'd seen the inside of an invisible city, and had everything he thought he knew shifted and scrambled in a matter of months. Twenty-five years was too long, terrifyingly long in the world he knew.
"It's mostly cosmetic changes. The maps have altered... but all the Gardens still stand. Everyone you know..."
Quistis trailed off, and he knew he never did that without a very good reason.
"I'm going to go... kick the medical staff awake." She grumbled, as much as any perfectionist could grumble, not quite enough to cover the swift change in topic. "You feel okay here alone, Squall?"
"He'll be fine. I'm staying." Seifer watched her go, Zell tossing them a single, worried glance before following Quistis out the door.
After a few moments, he carefully reached down, drawing a few strands of longer hair out of Squall's face. He was glad Squall had worn it long all this time, never got tired of finger combing it whenever Squall actually took a few minutes to relax. Gray-blue eyes shot open, studying him carefully, but even from such an unguarded position Squall didn't say anything, didn't move or protest, and for a while they just sat there in silence. The thought came to him that this was a different Squall, a much earlier Squall, and even this one trusted him, or had been willing to.
"How long... you and me?"
"Going on twenty-five years now."
Squall didn't react, good or bad. Maybe he was just too tired.
"Silver anniversary." He finally said, with no real emotion.
"I usually just have your gunblade polished and re-sharpened. It's the only damn thing you ever want anyway."
"... twenty-five. It couldn't have been, then..."
"Old, but not /that/ old..."
Seifer winced, could see Squall counting back in his mind and knew the question was coming whether he wanted to answer it or not.
He could avoid the question. He could just refuse to answer it. He couldn't avoid Squall's eyes, at least not forever.
He sighed. "Rinoa is gone, she's been gone for... a long time now. Since before you and I... Maybe dead, maybe... just gone. Hopefully."
"What aren't you telling me?"
Seifer sighed, the hand laying on Squall's shirt curling in a bit, enough that Squall didn't ask the rest of the questions crashing together in his mind. It seemed such a wrong thing for him, too thoughtful and pensive, but then this wasn't the Seifer he knew, was it? /He/ wasn't the Squall he knew.
Twenty-five years. Twenty-five years gone, just like that, and if he lived that life but forgot it now, didn't that mean it was as good as if had never happened?
//My whole life, stolen from me.//
He sighed, and Seifer reached down, hand unclenching from his shirt, rising to rub the ball of his thumb across the back of Squall's cheek. It was unexpected, and rattled him in a way he didn't quite know what to do with.
//You and he... he's used to this. You're not.// He sighed, tried to relax. It wasn't fair to pull away from Seifer, especially when he was only trying to help.
Seifer, trying to help. He tried to smile and it turned into a wince because really, twenty-five years seemed an awfully short amount of time for something like that. Weariness hit him faster than he thought it would. He would have fallen had he not been lying down, all his muscles aching and sore and his head... not hurting exactly, but blurred and splintered and very obviously damaged.
"Give it a little time, Squall. I don't... just give it time."
He nodded, and realized Seifer was still talking about Rinoa, about whatever happened with Rinoa, because Rinoa was gone or dead and she'd left him. It shouldn't have been such a surprise.
"... everybody leaves."
Squall hadn't intended to say it out loud but it came anyway, and before he knew it the front of his shirt was clutched even more tightly, and Seifer's mouth was right next to his ear, forehead nearly touching his shoulder. The other hand was close, digging sharply into his collarbone... and the man's voice trembled against his skin.
"... don't, damn you. Just don't. I mean it."
Seifer was scared. Squall didn't remember his past, and somehow he'd still used it to hurt him.
It must have been a hell of a story, he thought, but instead of sounding funny it just sounded melancholy and sad and he didn't want to think about it anymore, because if Seifer was afraid he had no right not to be.
He didn't bother to speak and Seifer didn't say anything more, they just sat there in the quiet until Squall wondered where Quistis had gone. Wondered if he was losing his grip on time as well as his memories... and felt Seifer's hand come up, the back of a finger tracing the slight smoothness of skin that was the scar, what might have been the first gift, even before there was a need for anniversaries.
He wondered if he had any others. If he'd gotten them trying to protect Rinoa...
//... don't think. Just don't.//
Seifer, the voice of caring reason. It must have been a hell of a story.
"So, do we argue a lot?"
"Just the once, really, when I caught you in bed with Irvine."
Half-asleep, it didn't even register as a joke until he'd already jumped, eyes snapping open to stare at Seifer as he smirked and laughed.
Author's Notes -
1. Still don't know why I'm doing this.
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