It was dark above deck, all the lights on the ship off, and when his eyes adjusted Seifer could just make out the edge of the trees against the sky... and a soft glow in the distance, the half-moon reflecting against the SeeD ship's sails. So they had expected no resistance, or pursuit. He felt a moment of absurd, arrogant pride, at the thought of getting the better of the White SeeD. Always something too prim and proper about them, guaranteed to rub him the wrong way. He contented himself with the fact that Squall never liked them much either.
A glimmer of orange light caught the corner of his eye, and he turned to see the young sniper leaning against the mast.
"... don't worry, I don't think they could see something this small from here, even if they were looking."
Jayne flicked the butt of her cigarette over the side, cool and calm and, just like her father, the image of a lone wolf down to the last detail - save that they both knew she was waiting for his orders.
"You still smoke."
"Just when people keep me waiting." She grinned with Selphie's best smile. It must have run holy hell over everyone she met. No wonder she didn't have a boyfriend yet, when her good humor alone was enough to flatten a person. She tipped her head slightly, studying him. "You look as nervous as dad did. Is this really that bad?"
"Your father... tried to kill the last sorceress, once. It didn't work."
He hated that any of those memories were still clear, but they were. Way too clear. The smug recognition, atop the platform, the feeling of amused contempt that steadied and frightened him all at once. Glancing up to see Edea's smirk - she had known, all along, what was coming...
Squall, impaled on a spear of ice, when Seifer had been so sure he would duck, or dodge, or bring his sword up. Idiot. Damned fool, to die like that - no, couldn't be dead, /couldn't/ be. It wasn't like this, not his dream, didn't Edea know that?
What the hell was he supposed to do, if things didn't end the way they were supposed to?
"What kind of ammo was he using? Uncle Seifer?"
"... not sure, kid. I wasn't exactly backing him up."
Jayne nodded absently, she knew the whole story already and didn't really care - and Seifer still considered that a marvel. Especially with this Sorceress rising, he had expected one or two backward glances, suggestions and doubts cast in his direction, but it seemed his years as SeeD - hell, his devotion to Squall - had completely outshone the mistakes of his past. It made Rinoa's actions seem only that much more perverse, really, refusing to let the past just die, time erasing what was better off forgotten anyway.
Jayne bent down, pulled open a portion of her pack, long fingers sifting through rows of ammunition. Bullets that glowed, or were as warm as banked coals, bullets that could take down a Guardian Force, with the right sort of gun.
"I packed a couple of new kinds. Bet I can find something the bitch - I mean, the sorceress hasn't seen before." She rummaged around a bit more before glancing up again. "This Rinoa... she's really Uncle Squall's wife?" Her face twisted, fumbling for any sort of tact. "Er... was."
Jayne blinked, face shifting from sarcastic good-nature to something softer, more tentative. "Was she nice? You know, before?"
Seifer sighed. So long since he'd really thought about her as anything but an opponent, a danger. They'd only had that summer and none of that had been filled with anything but the usual occupations. A million young lovers had lived in an identical idyll, which didn't make it any less important, but left things vaguely unmemorable.
"She smiled a lot, as much as your mom does. She was really playful, sometimes it got annoying, but she'd make you feel better even if you didn't want to be."
Spoiled, and always with her heart before her head, but even if Seifer couldn't bring most of his memories with her out of a vague ether, he /remembered/ watching her and Squall dance. The two of them gloriously right together, so in love, and no matter how it had all fallen apart it still felt as if he'd stolen something that didn't belong to him.
//Never yours, not really.//
A little voice in the back of his mind, completely unsurprised. After all Squall was just being returned to his rightful owner. And that was how this Rinoa saw it, and the thought made him want to break whatever he could get his hands around.
"She was everything this Sorceress is not, I can tell you that much. I don't - I don't know if Rinoa's still in there, somewhere. I really don't... but I have to believe she'd want us to stop her, whatever it takes."
//You've been fucking my husband, Seifer Almasy, is /that/ what you think I /wanted/?!//
The Sorceress knew - hell, Rinoa had known, all the way back then she had known, and she had been crying.
"It's going to be all right, Uncle Seifer." Jayne's hand, strong on his arm, and no matter how involved she was it was still just more of a job to her than anything else. The Gardens didn't send people on missions that would cripple them the way he was now, damn near unable to move, let alone carry out the plan.
"So, how are we going to do this?"
Important not to kill anyone, for negotiations and peace and just because Squall wouldn't want a body count, and Seifer didn't want to look him in the eye and explain one.
"Tranquilizers." Jayne lifted one into the light, snapping the cartridges quickly into her rifle. He watched her cradle the gun, checking aim and distance through her scope, grabbing for a pair of night vision goggles at her side. He was standing close enough to see her face was fixed for the fight. No smile, eyes sharp and focused - not so young a SeeD that she hadn't already buried friends.
"I'll do it as fast as I can. I don't want any of them falling overboard and drowning. It shouldn't be a problem, though. I can take out everyone above for you, and then I'll make sure the boat's ready to move when you come back."
"Keep Quetzacoatal at the ready, too. I don't think we'll need it, but..."
Jayne nodded. "Just tell me when, I'll get you a clear path. Can you handle the rest, you old timers?"
He frowned at her teasing question, reached up a hand to roughly muss her hair.
"Show some respect for your elders, kid - and not /so/ much elder, either."
"Just don't tell Aunt Fuujin I said..."
The shadows had substance, sliding against his skin, the caress too light, too soft, and his skin itched against it. Still better than when her touch turned cool and jagged, like glass, when he didn't know he'd been cut until he saw blood.
He could feel it, wet and dripping. A second touch passed through the phantom hand, wiping the blood away... without leaving a trail? No pain, false blood. So now he was bleeding ghosts.
"... not looking so good, is he."
"... don't have a choice. Any sign...?"
Squall strained to hear the response, but the voices disappeared completely, along with the hand near his throat. He drifted back into the cool stillness, the lack of sensation maddening, the loss of time and distance and, frighteningly, self. He'd lost too much of that already, he was certain of that, and the repercussions had been... bad. Painful, and he wasn't the only one who had paid.
The dry, amused laughter was rain on paper, pattering, and he tried and failed to crawl into his own bones.
//Loss of self? You're nothing less than what I make you. You are my knight, you can no more lose that than you can undo history.//
/Rinoa?/ He hoped she would come back, his Rinoa, give him more than those few disbelieving seconds. He needed to see her again, even if she was broken and he was fading and thinking of the past was just nightmares coming up to feed.
//Rinoa? You poor thing.// He loathed the Sorceress, despised that icy chuckle, so damned smug and sure. Hated it the most because he could not deny her, could not even when she wore Rinoa's face like a badly warped mask.
//She ceased to exist long ago, when you locked her away. It was a mercy, you know. If I hadn't assumed control, she would have gone mad. She would have lost herself completely.//
" - you hear something?"
Squall blinked, as a weight shifted on his bed. The other world, the warm one he could barely feel, something was happening there. He hoped it wasn't more drugs, he could feel the ones they'd already given him clenching against his heart, fighting him for every breath. He opened his eyes, but everything was hopelessly blurry, and even the words he did hear didn't make sense.
"... the hell?!"
"Attacked! Taken out two at the bow-"
Muffled thuds above him, and Squall closed his eyes again.
//Don't kill them. Please, for me if not for yourself. They can't be a threat, it can't cost you...//
It wasn't about cost, the entire point was doing what she wanted, when she wanted, for no reason at all. Cool, smooth fingers stroked his hair, fingertips nearly drumming as they slid down around the curve of his ear. It was an intimate gesture, familiar enough to make his whole body ache.
//It isn't me. He's come to rescue you.//
The whisper sounded so young, and grateful, and grieving, and terrified. Lying, Ultimecia had been lying, and this /was/ his Rinoa. He should have never doubted.
//Squall, I'm scared. Please don't leave me.// The hand tightened against his shoulder, and he knew it was real, the boundary between the worlds a breath away. It wouldn't be long now, and there was nothing he could do to change it.
//Squall, please. Please, please stay with me.//
... and when she awoke, and when she rose, the world would be a horror.
//My knight will stay.// The hand loosened, he wanted to scream in frustration, always fumbling her, never sure how to call her or bring her back. //He will stay, because he knows the future. He sees.// Was she consoling Rinoa? Appeasement, to let anything happen to the rest of the world as long as he was with her?
//I'm the only thing that makes sense, Squall.//
He bit his lip so hard he tasted blood.
/You used to be./
A louder thud, somewhere outside the door. If Rinoa wasn't lying, no doubt Seifer would stride in, sword at the ready, blazing like a wildfire, twice as brash and proud and angry as he would ever need to be. There was only one SeeD left in the room, frozen between the door and where Squall lay, and the thought of the look on that man's face, the shock and surprise - Squall discovered he was smiling. Stupid. Very stupid for Seifer to come here - but it still made him smile.
Very stupid for him to reach out, taking Rinoa's invisible hand, feeling his fingers twine with hers - through hers - please Hyne, just give him this one moment...
His fingertips brushed across something hard, just before the softness of her skin vanished to vapor - her wedding ring. Still wearing it. Still there inside, no matter what the Sorceress said or all the years passing and even if he could fight against his knighthood, how could he fight against her?
"I'm sorry, sir. I truly am."
The SeeD turned, movements fast and frantic but a determined steadiness in his eyes. Squall saw the flash, the slowly rising energy - Guardian Force. Either to kill him or to fracture his mind past anyone's reach. Squall tried to move, to pull himself up and away but it was completely useless.
//Little late for the self-preservation instincts, idiot.//
He swallowed hard, closed his eyes and turned his face away as the room grew much too bright.
So much for vigilance. Seifer wasn't even sure what Fuujin's signal was back to Jayne, didn't realize she'd given it until he heard a sound that wasn't the prow of the tiny boat bumping against the SeeD's ship, and a dull thud from above as the first SeeD hit the deck. Fuujin had already thrown up a rope, tiny metal bars snapping out into what would pass for a ladder - it'd been years since he'd used one, and he turned back to give her a slight grin for the shared nostalgia.
Another thud from overhead, Fuujin was already halfway up the ladder when a shape came plummeting over the side, falling into the water just off the stern.
He wasn't so shocked when Fuujin immediately let go of the rope, leaping off into the water towards the unconscious SeeD. Seifer didn't bother watching, quickly climbing the ladder and diving into the nearest shadows he could find. The ship's crew were still hovering in that half-second of confusion, the total benefit of their sneak attack. He heard two more shots from Jayne hit their targets, and someone shouted sharply. Seifer winced, the door from below deck opening, the pounding of quite a few footsteps - though it might be easier, actually, than having to fight them all beneath.
Seifer watched the SeeD spill up like ants in a kicked-over hill, the closest to a prayer the hopeful thought that Jayne had packed as much ammunition as Irvine tended to carry with him. Paranoid in all the right places.
He grinned into the sudden surge of excitement, even eagerness - still something about a battle, even now - and leapt toward the oncoming SeeD, snickering as the first row of them went wide-eyed in surprise.
It wasn't so difficult to avoid killing them, the gunblade made a fair weapon on the flat, given the width. Seifer was having just as much success punching them out, or letting their own leverage propel them overboard. Not to mention every fifth or sixth SeeD went down without his help, thanks to a well-munitioned sniper.
He grabbed her latest target a second before the White SeeD could go over the side of the boat, receiving a well-aimed punch in the ribs from the SeeD behind him for his trouble. Seifer growled, wrenching his arm back and tossing the man into his assailant, watching in satisfaction as they both crashed to the ground.
"Freeze, damn it!"
Bang bang, here came the guns. He was surprised it had taken them so long. Seifer readied a Fira, watching the air in front of him begin to shimmer, ready to turn bullets into popcorn the moment they fired. He took the opportunity to stop moving, eyes sweeping across the deck, checking his position. Quite an impressive bit of damage so far, but there were still too many SeeD standing, and a few of them were returning fire on Jayne's boat, forcing her to take cover. Hyne, he hoped she'd take cover. SeeD or not, Seifer didn't want to imagine Irvine's reaction if something happened to his little girl.
Irvine nothing, he'd be better off being strangled by the cowboy than having to face the Wrath of Tilmitt.
Of course, he hadn't forgotten about Fuujin, but it was still surprising when a sudden blast of wind sent at least half of the SeeD still standing hurtling over the side of the boat, the rest startled and some firing madly, the flare of incinerating bullets blinking here and there in front of him. Fuujin had gotten much, much better with her Wind attacks, and it didn't take much after that for the rest of the crew to end up strewn on their backs - except for the SeeD who lunged at him, forgetting the protective wall of fire until the flames were leaping up his left arm.
"You dumb shit!" Seifer dropped the spell, immediately pushing the man to the deck and smothering the flames with his coat. Thank Hyne he hadn't had his old clothes, it would have been a shame to waste them on this.
"... thanks." The young man breathed.
"No problem." Seifer snapped back, and punched him in the face.
"SEIFER!" Fuujin yelled, pointing to the door leading below, and he was down the stairs in seconds. All as planned, and with all the fighting above most of the doors below had been left wide open. Hell, it was a /ship/, there were only so many places Squall could be.
A door opened on his right, Seifer decked the man who stepped outside without even looking at him, glancing at the room beyond just long enough to see that Squall wasn't there.
"Come on... come /on/!" Seifer froze, so fast the chain around his neck thumped back against his chest, feeling the hair rise on his arms and the back of his neck.
A Guardian Force, and very close by. Two closed doors, and premonition was rising up and choking him. If he wasn't right on the first guess, all of this had been for nothing.
Seifer leaned back and smashed the first door off its hinges, hitting the other with a Firaga that all but vaporized it. If his first guess wasn't correct he still might have a second to spare, please /Hyne/ let it not be too late.
He was right. The man who had taken Squall from the Garden was in the center of the room, all concentration on his summoning. Squall was a dead weight on the bed in front of him, helpless and not moving and Seifer was more than happy to feel his anger incinerate any remaining trace of caution.
"Don't you dare touch him, you son of a bitch!"
The SeeD turned, much too late, and Seifer's blow took him off his feet, head slamming hard against the wall as he lost his balance entirely. The glow of the GF slowly faded, with no one left to call it forth, and the room was dark and dim again. Seifer spared just enough attention to make certain the man was out before turning his attention back to the bed.
Squall hadn't moved, no sign that he'd noticed the battle or seen his captor hit the floor. He was curled up on himself slightly, eyes closed, and made a sharp sound of protest when Seifer touched him. Ice cold. Seifer's stomach lurched so hard he nearly lost his balance, dropping to a knee by the bed.
"Squall? Shit, Squall, come on." Two fingers quickly found a steady pulse, but the stillness, the cold was alarming. Seifer's eyes traced down to the rolled sleeve, the needle marks, and he fought the sudden urge to give the soldier crumpled in the corner a much more thorough beating.
"Squall, damn it," Seifer slapped his face lightly, shaking his shoulders harder. He could carry him out of here if he had to but Seifer needed to see his eyes, that he was awake, that the goddamned SeeD hadn't had the chance to do anything that couldn't be fixed. "Squall, WAKE UP!"
Blue eyes, flat and clouded as stones, looked up at him in drugged, weary confusion.
The breath he released was a prayer, even without words. Seifer threw his arms around Squall, pulling him into a sitting position. The idea was to carry him out as fast as possible, but Seifer could only manage to be still for a long moment, the weight in his arms and the breath and - yes. Safe, safe again. Yes.
"Seifer?" Squall was bewildered, struggling weakly, staring at him without making any connections at all. He smiled, knew it broke somewhere on his face but let it fall so fast he doubted the other man could notice it.
"Fuu and Jayne too. We're exploring piracy as the career of the future." The grin that appeared couldn't be any healthier than the first smile, but at least the fear was fading. "D'arr."
Squall got to his feet slowly, one arm draped across Seifer's shoulders, but his legs quickly folded and it was all the other man could do to keep him standing.
"Hyne, what the hell have they been doing to you."
So unsteady on his feet, it took Seifer a moment to realize Squall was trying to pull away, fighting him.
"... have to stay. 's the only way... keep everyone safe."
It wouldn't be right to slap Squall across the back of the head, but the temptation was certainly there.
"Oh, /fuck/ that. We'll find another damn way, Squall, but this isn't it. I should have never let you come out here in the first place."
Seifer expected Squall to argue, but he was either too sick or too tired to do more than lean into the support he was offered, hair brushing against Seifer's neck in that annoying, ticklish way he needed to feel as much as he'd ever needed to breathe.
Fuujin, standing in the doorway, smiling first for him and then for Squall, nodding sharply, as if the universe had been set back where it belonged. Seifer saw her glance snap over his shoulder, and turned, and so neither of them saw Squall staring at Fuujin in amazement, or heard him murmur.
"I... remember you... like that."
The White SeeD had woken, was watching them leave. Seifer heard Fuujin stepping in close behind him, ready to move or attack or reach for Squall, but it was clear after a few moments that the man was not about to attack, or even get to his feet. He couldn't really feel bad about it, though he knew he probably should have.
"You're... making a horrible mistake."
Accusing eyes. He'd seen eyes like that before. Squall's eyes, hanging bloody and beaten against the wall. A silent, horrified admonition, telling him that he couldn't even tell reality from the grandiose pageant inside his head, let alone the difference between right and wrong.
Seifer frowned, and shifted his grip on Squall's shoulder.
"No. I'm correcting one."
He walked out, Fuujin on his heels, and they had no further trouble all the way back to the boat, where Jayne was waiting to help them aboard.
Author's Notes -
1. Starring Raijin as "Sir Not Appearing In this Fanfic." I just had nothing at all for him to do. Apologies for all Raijin fans.
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