It doesn’t take long to call the meeting. Seifer discovers that Matron has already informed Ellone, and Quistis and Xu. Selphie and Irvine are there when he walks in, and if anything he is the one who has come late to the party. Fuujin and Raiijin are with him and there are a few awkward moments where everyone tries to remember they aren’t enemies and they all shuffle around in the large conference room that suddenly seems much too small.
“Something’s wrong with Squall.”
“Hanging out with you? Imagine that.”
Zell snorts in that way that makes Seifer really, /really/ want to punch him, but the impulse doesn’t last as long as it once did. Why is he in the Garden at all? Why did he ask to be SeeD? Why isn’t he back with Fuujin and Raiijin slapping down punks for room and board?
Matron looks quietly unsurprised at his words, and so does Ellone, and the silent understanding between them bothers him greatly.
“I found him, in the elevator. It looked like something had scared the crap out of him. He was all panicked, he wouldn’t let me leave. It wasn’t like him.”
//The sex wasn’t much like him either.// Seifer thinks, but certainly does not say it aloud. No one has asked where they went or what happened and he doubts that even Quistis has guessed at it. He wouldn’t have guessed it himself if he hadn’t been there. At least this time, he’s still in the clear.
//What makes you think there’s going to be a next time?//
Matron nods, breaking him from his quiet train of thought.
“He has come to me too, a few times. He tries to hide it, to say that it was nothing... but some of the things he says... it is much more than nothing. Would he tell you what happened?”
“Rinoa. He said Rinoa did something with time. Made it... stop, somehow, and that she’s been coming to him while everything is frozen. I’d say it’s just nightmares, but... yeah. It’s more.”
He wants it to be a surprise to Matron, but the expression on her face is anything but. Zell, on the other hand, reacts as calmly as Seifer expects him to.
“No WAY! Rinoa’s gone, right?! I mean, if she were going to come back... she’d have done it by now, right? Try to take over the world or bring back Lunatic Pandora or /something/, right?”
“A Sorceress does not always require grand gestures, not in the beginning, at least. The shifts of power can be small and quiet too, nurturing events, until the proper moment arrives.”
Matron looks tired, more than Seifer has ever seen her. He has already made his apologies there, and accepted hers, tried to explain that what she gave as mother was so much more than she took away as Ultimecia’s pawn, that there is no room for blame, no regret. He grins, just a little, when she sees he’s watching, and her returning smile is weary but understanding.
“How many Sorceresses /are/ there, then?”
Irvine mutters, looking more than a little nervous. Seifer hasn’t been around him long enough to tell if he’s worried or angry, here of his own volition or because Selphie demanded they come. Likely, even grudging and worried, he’s still here because he wants to be. A feeling of duty, and friendship. When did Squall start meaning so much to so many?
“The power comes with a price, it always has.”
Cid has been sitting next to Matron the entire time, and squeezes her hand when she sighs.
“None of us truly die, none of their thoughts, I can still ponder them, sometimes. They speak to me. I don’t know why Ultimecia could remain so powerful after her death. Perhaps I am only free now because she is trapped in that loop in time, and her presence is not...” Matron smiled. “Forgive me. It’s very difficult to explain, but I do know that there were other Sorceresses like Ultimecia, others who survived after death, and one of them is in Rinoa now. I cannot tell you exactly what her plan may be... only that she isn’t /here/, not in this world, not right now. In fact, the only thing I sense of her is in Squall.”
Ellone nods. “I can feel it too. He’s not... matching, to this world anymore. It’s like he’s being pulled along with her, slowly drifting out of this time.”
“Where did she go?”
It is supposed to be a secret meeting, but Seifer can’t help but want Squall here now, just to keep an eye on him, even if it can’t do any good. Squall is resting for the moment, Ellone there until he fell asleep, and now his constant weariness, his slowly weakening state makes more sense than Seifer ever wanted it to.
The terror, too. On some level, Squall knows what is happening to him.
//Maybe the whole reason he came to you in the first place? Nothing to do with /you/, really. He’s just too messed up to know better.// Seifer will not think about it to the point of deciding how it makes him feel.
“There are worlds, not just times, that Sorceresses can make use of.” Matron’s hands are slightly curled, she stares at them as if the answers she can give them come from the spaces between her fingers. “Places, and creatures... do you know where Guardian Forces come from?”
“Most people think they came from a Lunar Cry, a long, long time ago. The monsters fought each other for dominance, until only a few remained, and those eventually became GF’s”
Xu the studious, but the words come hesitant, she’s speaking only conjecture and will not give the words any other weight, especially when Matron gently shakes her head.
“It is a Cry, but not from the moon, not from anywhere in our universe. Worlds collide, or Sorceresses make it happen, not compressing time but drawing together realities... bringing those monsters to our world. That is what happened long ago, what a Sorceress did, long ago. Maybe it is that same Sorceress, now, trying to fulfill her desires for the world.”
“... and Squall is her knight?”
“Her knight, and the door to that place. I fear Rinoa may be trying to make him into a bridge between these worlds, to draw more Guardian Forces into ours, ones we cannot control, to increase her power.”
The world would turn into a field of combat, Guardian Forces fighting for dominance, and Rinoa would reign over whatever was left standing. Seifer doesn’t even need to close his eyes to see it. He still has enough of those memories, emotions, Ultimecia’s desires that pushed everything else out of the way, until he was certain they were his own. Maybe every Sorceress does not wish to conquer the world, but all the ones who live on do, who linger past death to demand new bodies and second chances. The ones who wish otherwise never have a choice.
... and whatever might be left of Rinoa only wants Squall, only wants him with her and does not care what the final cost of that may be.
“So what can we do?” Selphie is demanding answers, though she must be aware they may not be coming.
“I have... an idea.” Ellone says softly, her tone wavering and unsure and Seifer already knows he’s frowning in disapproval.
“I spoke about it, with a few scientists in Esthar, and Dr. Odine. It might be possible to employ a Guardian Force to block specific memories, specific pathways in the mind... there is so much about them we don’t know, but we do know how powerful their effects can be on us. It would be possible, for one of the more sentient Guardian Forces, perhaps, to do something like this.”
Everyone is silent. It’s rather hard not to be, realizing just what she’s suggesting. Ellone catches a hold of her courage and keeps going.
“If everything goes as it should, Squall would retain most of his memories. He would likely remember Rinoa disappearing, but little to none of what is happening to him now. Nothing of what she is doing to him. We believe it might erase a week’s worth of memories, perhaps a few days more.”
“What would happen to her?”
Ellone lifts a shoulder, shrugging. “Wherever she is, whatever she is doing, Squall is her link back to this world. She’s created a connection between them. If we can sever that link, we assume she would be stranded wherever she was, quite likely forever.” She bit her lip. “It’s the reason I think we shouldn’t tell Squall we’re going to do this. I don’t think he’ll say yes, if he knows...”
//Knows we’re banishing whatever remains of his wife to where she can never return.//
One of those decisions no one wants to make, but they are all SeeD and know how to live with guilt and tough decisions. A week’s worth of memories and a betrayal Squall wouldn’t remember - there are arguments against doing this, but no one standing in front of him is going to make them.
“What if this /doesn’t/ work as planned?” Quistis, already weighing probable outcomes. Ellone’s mouth tightens a bit more.
“Squall could lose more of his memories, perhaps all of them. It could damage his mind past repair, or he could die.” At least Ellone didn’t worry about getting straight to the point. “If we don’t do it, though, Rinoa will continue to use him in whatever way she wishes, and his condition is obviously not as important to her as her ultimate goal. He may still die by her hand, if we don’t do anything.”
“I can do it.”
Seifer knows it isn’t what he’s supposed to say, drawing every eye in the room onto him. He’s just here because he saw a little bit of what Squall was going through but he never mentioned how or why or what happened next and doesn’t want to start now. Quistis’ gaze is, of course, cautious. Not suspicious, not yet, and if his ‘probation’ never really wears off, he can’t exactly blame them.
He has no idea how to answer that, where to begin or what might just make things worse. Luckily, there are people in the room who don’t spend that much time considering such things.
“You kissed him.”
Seifer swallows the curse, rolls his eyes behind closed lids.
//Thank you, Selphie.//
At least she has the decency to look chagrined, digging her toe into the floor and blushing. “I saw you... in the hall, yesterday. Sorry.”
It is a bit of an effort to look up. Quistis is staring at him very carefully, impossible to tell whether she regrets asking him to help with Squall. Fuu is of course, not ruffled, but since he never told Raiijin, he and Zell are sharing a remarkably similar look of utter shock. He can tell Zell wants to hit him, but the fighter can’t quite convince himself that it’s the right course of action.
Matron is smiling, oddly enough, a quiet, polite, pleased sort of smile, and Seifer can feel himself blushing. Irvine snickers softly, and Seifer starts thinking of ways to remove his ponytail hair by hair.
“All right then, so Squall trusts you.” Quistis’ focus is barely jarred from the task at hand. “... but you haven’t junctioned in over a year.”
She’s trying to calculate what should be, which is that he was not allowed a GF for more than a few days at a time, pre-SeeD, with what she knows is true. He has used GF’s extensively, mostly illegally, and most of it was tolerated by Garden because he was a good enough gunblade fighter to deserve certain ‘benefits,’ because he was asked often enough to be more than a trainee. SeeD or not, there were deals made here and there, missions under-the-table. He does not have his attitude for nothing.
He had used it as the Sorceress’ Knight, as the last substantial junction he’d had. There had been a grudging respect between them. The best he could ask for, when he’d disliked Quetzacoatal and /could not/ junction with Siren or Carbuncle and spent most of his time with Shiva only fighting, refusing to think too loudly and glad she kept her distance when they weren’t in combat.
“Who has it now?”
“Squall unjunctioned all of his GF’s, a little while ago.” Xu murmured, glancing up. “He didn’t give any reasons... but I assume he was nervous about what might happen, if his mind was too unstable...”
“He’s with one of the SeeD cadets. We’ll get him for you, if you think you can use him.”
“So we’re just trusting Seifer not to screw this up?” Zell is glaring darkly at him. “How the hell are you going to get close enough to... no, wait. No, don’t tell me.”
He makes the same face he does when the cafeteria tries to serve him tofu dogs, and Seifer realizes this is the extent of the arguments against him. Matron does not protest, and her silent vote holds more weight than all of the rest of them them. It is ironic, his friends trust Squall’s judgment on this, which they shouldn’t, and are likely still suspicious of him when he is no threat at all.
Later, he is leaving, and not surprisingly Quistis ends up on the elevator with him, Fuujin and Raijin left behind.
Quistis stops, biting a bit at her lip, and the look in her eyes is unsure and analytical and questioning and something hovers there, the look of respect when she looked at SeeDs and at Squall on his graduation but never at him, never until this moment.
“You can trust me this time, Quistis. I swear it.”
He keeps thinking he’s reached the point of no return, only to turn another corner and find he must prove himself again, find that he /does/ prove himself again. He never thought he’d want or need Quistis’ support, let alone receive it - and he wonders if it’s possible, after trying so hard for so long to be the hero, if he’s managed to fall into it without ever noticing.
Squall opened his eyes. His head was in Ellone’s lap, though they were in the infirmary now, no longer outside. He wondered how long he’d been out. No way to tell, he hadn’t been able to measure time so well in that dream.
Dreaming of Seifer. Of the past, and with Ellone here... then the dream was not a dream. He had wanted it explained to him, and she had done one better, and let him see for himself.
“Seifer. I was - so that was all...”
Her hand tightened slightly against his shoulder, as if afraid he would bolt, when the truth finally sunk in far enough.
“You watched him, you watched us make one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to. I didn’t even realize what it meant for him to do that to you, until later, with how long you’ve been together...”
//He didn’t tell me. He took her from me and he didn’t even tell me.//
Squall thought he should have been furious, but he was SeeD as much as they were and what they’d done, it made sense. Saving the Garden, perhaps the world by his sacrifice, and no matter how much it hurt to think it, it wasn’t even that much to give up.
//Locking her away forever. An eternity alone in that frozen nothing I would rather die than be in.//
Not Rinoa, though. Not his Rinoa, just some dark nightmare that wore her body and used her voice to call his name. He couldn’t resist her but that didn’t mean he didn’t know why and he couldn’t be angry with Seifer, with any of them, for making the choice they had.
“Where is he?”
“In one of the conference rooms... the same one you were in then, I think, to add a bit of unnecessary irony. Everyone else is there too.”
Ellone looked down at him, letting her fingertips catch a few strands of his hair, and the look in her eyes was apologetic, and worried, and afraid. He had a sudden shock of memory, not to anything forgotten but something much deeper, buried in that past he had gladly let himself forget, and the last time she had looked like that he had lost her forever.
“It was her, wasn’t it. Rinoa?”
He nodded. “It was her. I think she’s getting stronger. She’s angry, very angry at all of you.”
//... you will kill him for me, first among them... the fallen knight.//
Rinoa could only keep him from hurting her, though. He would not be her knight. He would not kill Seifer. He would not kill anyone. If he truly was this ‘door,’ though, Squall knew he had no real choice in the matter. He didn’t even know how to stop it, if Rinoa decided to unleash this other world, call the monsters to them.
//Guardian Forces.// Imagine the entire world turned into one of those islands they had found, just before taking on Ultimecia. The sort of island that left him wondering how anything had survived long enough to even become prey.
Imagine twenty T-Rexaurs, or two-thousand, or twenty-thousand.
If Rinoa succeeded, the first Lunar Cry would be written up as a training exercise in the annals of history, a pittance compared to what she brought down on the world.
//If anyone is left alive to record it.//
He didn’t believe it, neither did Ellone, but she nodded anyway.
“I know. You’re my brave little brother.” She shifted, and he was glad he actually had the strength to sit up. “Come on, I told everyone I’d bring you back.”
Bring him back, the words echoed strangely, somewhere in his chest, not what she meant at all but he was stuck thinking it anyway. Could she always? Always save him from Rinoa, from himself? Likely... but what would happen if she wasn’t there?
Author’s Notes -
1. As if I know where any of this is going. Viva la exposition.
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