Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to the Final Fantasy series. They belong to Squaresoft.
Let Me Make It Alright
Chapter 28: Away From Me
By Angry Angel
In the gently rising breeze licking across the Balamb plains, Squall had indeed fallen asleep. Seifer had watched over him for a little while, simply marvelling at the peace and quiet that had taken the brunette over, before he himself had been enfolded by the same mellow slumber. Every now and then he would twitch, stirred by the occasional leaf caressing his features or a butterfly dancing by. Hours passed though, before Seifer finally found himself waking up again.
The air had changed; it had grown slightly cooler and the trees were softly rustled by a stronger wind. Languidly gazing up at the sky, he noticed that the clouds had thickened and the former pure blue had mingled with a feeble grey. The expected rainstorm was probably going to unfold in the matter of a few hours.
Glancing over his left shoulder, Seifer smiled at the image of a softly snoozing Squall, who had reeled onto his side and was curled loosely in the high grass.
'He's actually really cute when he doesn't try to glare people to death.'
His muscles were itching and aching from his unusual sleeping position, and he rose to stretch and flex thoroughly. The overcast sky made it difficult for him to estimate the hour, and neither him nor Squall had the habit of wearing wristwatches. Well, he knew that Squall did when he went on missions, the dutiful SeeD would never risk falling out of his time frame. Seifer however carried a dislike for being pressed into conformations and minute schedules.
'Maybe that's why I failed the SeeD exam so often.'
He chuckled. No, there were definitely other reasons for that. Being one who never followed orders very attentively probably had more to do with it. Not that it made a difference, he was no longer a cadet nor a student.
Circling the great trunk, Seifer lowered himself into a squatting position before Squall's sleeping figure. He liked the way that the other's deep brown hair was flowing in the wind, gently washing against perfectly still, ivory features. For a moment, he considered waking the brunette from his obviously untroubled slumber, but he decided against it. Squall probably needed a good rest even more than he did.
Instead, the blonde pried his gunblade from the tree and moved a little further outwards into the orchard's clearing. Enjoying the blade's familiar weight pulling on his arms, he swivelled it around in gentle archs, trying to recapture his feeling and natural understanding for the weapon he had owned for a good period of eleven years already.
Both Seifer and Squall had started out as gunbladers upon their arrival at Garden, and it had only seemed natural that the younger had picked LionHeart, which was lighter and smaller than the Hyperion series. It fit the fighting style of Squall, who had always been more of a "jumper and dodger" rather than a "thrasher and burner" like Seifer himself.
Then again, the blonde mused, little Squall had probably just been fascinated by the lion emblem carved onto the sword's case when an instructor had taken both of them shopping for a weapon. He could remember seven-year-old Squall pressing his nose against the window of a Balamb shop display only too well, his childish blue eyes fixed on the blade that was about twice his size. Back then, nine-year-old Seifer had really only opted for a gunblade because Squall had wanted one, too.
Eleven years later, that almost amused him.
They had gone from being children that always picked on each other to rivals that never ceased at trying to surpass the other. So much fierce determination and tension, he really couldn't even say how it had all started out anymore.
He had always envied Squall, as well as he had envied anyone who Squall had ever paid attention to. Mainly, that had been Ellone, and Seifer had hated her with as much grudge as his toddler self had been able to muster. And even though Squall had been hurt beyond his childish understanding, he had been glad when Ellone had left them.
Eleven years later, he almost felt sorry.
Thinking about Ellone, he started to wonder whether the older girl would be accompanying Laguna on his visit. From all he had ever found out, Ellone still lived in Esthar. Somebody had told him that she had gotten married to a former soldier named Biggs, a name that he recalled vaguely but had never spent much thought on. The memory of his months as a sorceress knight was painful and dim, covered by a thick veil of fog which he didn't have much desire to slice through. In fact, he believed that some things were better off remaining forgotten.
Suddenly, he turned his focus outward again and realized that the weather was definitely starting to worsen. The wind had picked up distinctly, ruffling even his carefully gelled hair. Huge clouds were casting large shadows, hiding the last faint rays of sun cutting through the greying sky. Even the air smelled like rain.
Seifer liked storms, as a matter of fact, but he figured that it probably wasn't such a good idea for his delicate roommate to linger out in the cold any longer.
Resting his gunblade against his right shoulder, he trudged over to the sleeping frame and perched down before it once again. His left hand found Squall's arm and steadily started to shake it.
"Hey princess, time to wake up," he muttered.
The brunette stirred immediately at the sound of Seifer's baritone voice and rolled over on his back, legs propped up on the ground and arms folded across his face. He was obviously bristling against having to wake up. Seifer wasn't known to be the most patient person to ever have walked Hyne's sweet planet, but he was enjoying the sight of a sleepily groaning Squall so much that he decided to sit it out and simply study his rival's every movement.
Squall peeled his arms from his face lazily, blinking up into a pair of flickering green gems and an all too familiar satisfied smirk. Brows slanted wryly, he licked his lips subconsciously and swallowed the bitter taste that coated his mouth. He didn't see the sudden passionate hunger flaring up in Seifer's eyes, because a second later, his natural self-protective instincts kicked back in. He was exposing all sorts of vulnerable body parts lying there on his back, and his senses immediately flipped to alert status.
Squall sat up quickly, and he would have slammed his forehead right into Seifer's if the blonde hadn't managed to back off just in time. In a flash, the younger leapt to his feet and brushed stray grass from his clothes. He, too, noticed the change of weather almost right away and cocked his head to glance at the sky.
"A storm," he mumbled more to himself than to anyone else.
"That's why I woke you up," Seifer replied as he stood up as well. "It's gonna rain."
Even though he was surprised at the other guy's friendliness, Seifer repressed a sarcastic comment, figuring that it probably wouldn't be too encouraging for a replay. Instead, he watched how Squall bent down to pick up his half emptied ice tea bottle and took a sip of the berry red liquid. He almost coughed painfully seeing Squall running his tongue across his lips briefly once more, not even aware of what he was doing, let alone what it was doing to Seifer.
'He has to quit doing that.'
"I need to go and get ready for Laguna's dinner."
Finally distracted from Squall's mouth, Seifer adjusted his gaze slightly and looked deeply into Squall's swirling storm blue eyes, which oddly reminded him of the color tinting the sky that very same moment.
"You call him Laguna?"
Squall merely shrugged and twirled the bottle in his gloved hands, obviously not too comfortable with the subject.
"He's your father and all," Seifer added.
"I hardly know him."
"Do you want to get to know him?"
The brunette blinked hesitantly at the question. Nobody had ever asked him that before. He had been told that he should get to know his father better, but no one had once bothered to ask whether that was something that he actually wanted.
Seifer Almasy was still full of surprises.
"I don't know," he answered quietly and truthfully.
"I remember you always wanted to have a family when you were a kid. You're still a kid now, so what changed?"
'Man... I just can't help it, can I?'
For some reason, Squall did not pick up on the insult. He was focused inward once more, troubling his mind over things that Seifer now regretted he had brought up.
"Hey, you don't have to talk about it, Leonhart," he offered amicably.
"I don't know what changed," Squall answered anyway, "things just aren't the way they used to be anymore."
That had to have been the understatement of the year, and both of them knew it.
They both looked at each other for a long time, either of them incapable of reading the other man's face. Eventually, Squall broke the eye contact and kneeled to gather the heap of sandwich wrappings, but Seifer stopped him short by extending an arm and halting him by the shoulder. He could feel Squall tensing, but the SeeD didn't jerk away.
Immediately, Seifer removed his hand.
'I'll bite my own ass before I make the same mistake again.'
"I'll do that," he shrugged casually, "I wanna stay here a little bit longer and train some more."
"What about the storm?"
"I don't mind. I'll be back in there in a bit."
Squall nodded vaguely, holding on tightly to his sword and tea bottle.
He watched the slender brunette's silhouette disappearing uphill against the brooding dark sky. The wind had picked up another notch; it was tearing through the trees, his hair and his clothes much colder and harder than before. Seifer pinned down the empty wrappers with the last remaining sandwiches to prevent them from just flying off, before he resumed his own little training ritual in the rising gale.
Soon enough, though, it was getting too dark to see much of anything and the wind was starting to howl annoyingly loud. In the distance, he could even hear the first foreboding rolls of thunder. Sighing, he gathered his drink, sword and junk and trudged back to Garden.
The first drops of rain were beating down onto his skin before he even reached the roofed part of the school building. Cursing, he decided that he had waited just a little too long; he certainly hadn't planned on getting wet.
Suddenly, his attention was caught by something rolling over the pavement before him noisily, moved by the wind whipping about the grounds sharply. Bending down, he realized that it was an empty plastic bottle with an all too familiar label. Only a few feet away was the matching blood red puddle of berry flavored ice tea. Seifer's brows lowered.
Feeling very uneasy, Seifer looked around for a sign of Squall. There was nothing. He couldn't be sure that it was the brunette's bottle to begin with, but he found the fact discomforting nonetheless.
He gathered it into his arms and continued on into the brightly lit main hall, which served as an odd contrast to the darkness raging outside. He shuddered underneath his wet clothes and his eyes adjusted achingly for a second, before they fell onto a large group of people standing a little off in the distance, gossiping loudly.
He almost dropped everything he was carrying.
Seifer knew all of those people, some better than others.
One of them he wished he had never met.
Jade green was disbelievingly glued to a feminine, slim figure dressed in white and blue, which was holding on tightly to somebody else's arm. Long, chestnut colored hair was framing a beautiful pale skinned face, dominated by large, thick-lashed brown eyes that clung to the man whose arm she was claiming possessively. As much as Seifer's mind was trying to deny the sight, he knew who he was looking at.
It was indeed no other than Rinoa Heartilly.
He shot a quick glimpse at the man at her side, immediately mistaking him for Squall, before he called himself to mind that Squall did not have hair long enough to be pulled into a pony tail. The man's features were similarly elegant and fair, though, his hair the same cold brown if with a slightly more bluish tint to it. He had only seen that man and his two friends, a dark skinned sinewy man and a large guy about twice his size, once inside the Lunatic Pandora after Adel had been miserably defeated. Her spell on him had been broken then, and those were some of the few vivid memories he had.
That man was Squall Leonhart's father, the president of Esthar and the valiant hero of the first sorceress war. That man was Laguna Loire.
And Laguna was holding Rinoa Heartilly in his arms in a cruelly unmistakable way.
Seifer could merely gape at the scene, mind racing at light speed and heartbeat picking up to where it was almost crushing his chest. He knew what he was seeing, and he prayed to Hyne that his brunette roommate hadn't seen it yet. His eyes roamed the hall to find Squall, but he was nowhere to be found. Unsure whether that was a good sign or not, he focused back onto the group.
Laguna and Rinoa had obviously been accompanied by the two men whose names he did not know, as well as a couple of Estharian soldiers who were crisply standing at attention.
Apparently, Cid, Edea, Quistis and the others from the old orphanage gang were playing welcome committee, and none of them appeared to feel particularly comfortable. He even caught a glimpse of Quistis chewing on the corner of her lips looking more than uneasy.
To his mild surprise, even Rinoa didn't seem to be her usual overly cheerful and annoying self. There was something different about her, but he didn't know and didn't care what it was. He had more important things to worry about.
Taking a deep breath, he quickly stepped up to the assembly and caught their attention by his wet boots snapping over the floor loudly.
"Where is Squall?" he growled, not looking at anyone in particular yet definitely avoiding to look at Rinoa.
He shut her surprised voice out immediately, turning to glare at Quistis and Zell whose painful expressions seemed to mingle with confusion.
"Where is he?"
"I-I don't know," Quistis replied taken aback, "I thought he'd be with you?"
"He was. He went inside about fifteen minutes ago. Where is he?"
Seifer's voice was tense, shadowed with wonder and slowly rising panic. He had an extremely bad feeling about the whole situation. The bottle that he still thought had belonged to Squall flashed before his inner eye, crimson red puddle and everything, and he subconsciously tightened his grip around it.
"Fifteen minutes ago? Where'd ya come from?" Zell asked confusedly.
"We were all standing outside until it started to rain, because..." Quistis broke off, shooting a nervous glance at the Estharian guests, "because they wanted to see Garden."
His panic flared. If they had stood outside all that time, Squall would have had to pass by them to enter the facility, there was no way around that. Yet they hadn't seen him.
"What's wrong, Seifer?"
He lashed around immediately, not paying any attention to Quistis anymore, or anyone else for that matter. Slamming the trash into the nearest bin, he didn't care that he missed and wrappers spilled all over the floor.
'If Squall saw Rinoa and Laguna being all over each other...'
Seifer was outside in the pouring rain again only seconds later, running down the wide paved path, calling Squall's name loudly into the dark, through the howling wind, thunder and the lightning that tore the sky in two.
He never received an answer.
Panting and dripping wet from every pore already, he reached the Garden's gate ward house. At the sight of a dim light, he leaned over the counter to face the old man who had been working that same job for well over ten years. The warden recognized him at once, old grey eyes wide in surprise and shock.
"S-S-Seifer? Seifer Almasy?"
No time for courtesy.
"Did you see Squall?"
"Uh... Commander Leonhart? Yes, I did."
"When? Where?" he hissed those questions with a razor sharp edge, not minding that the man flinched fearfully at the open display of aggression; he only wanted an answer, no matter at what cost.
"Ah... maybe twenty minutes ago. I-I actually just called back there to find out if anything was wrong."
"What do you mean?"
"W-well, he wasn't looking too good, a-and I didn't know, I mean... he was just-"
Growling, Seifer reached across the counter and wrenched his hands into the man's uniform, pulling him close to his face, feeling his frightened breath brushing his own rain glistening skin.
"Define not looking good!!"
"Answer me, goddammit!! What was wrong, and where did he go?!"
"H-he... I r-really don't know where he went. He ran outside. He was really pale, and...I-I think h-he was crying."
Panic now enveloped him like a second skin. His hands still grasping the trembling warden, his eyes shot around, trying to pierce the darkness beyond the gates of Garden, but there was nothing but rain and fathomless distance.
"You let him run out there?!" he roared harshly and accusingly, glaring at the man in front of him.
He thrust the body away from himself back into the cubicle, immediately turning around to sprint back to the school building. It didn't matter to him that the warden would call security right away; if he wanted to catch up with Squall he would have to take a Garden car.
The group was still in place as he rushed inside, all of them staring apprehensively, some even making attempts at stopping him, but he was too fast and past them before any of them had a chance to react properly. He heard his name ring through the air behind him, but that didn't even slow him down.
Running through the hallway to the parking lot, he felt blood burning through his veins and rushing in his ears, fear and panic seizing his very core.
:::"He ran outside. He was really pale. He was crying.":::
"Fuck, fuck, FUCK!!!"
He slammed his foot into the vehicle department's office door, kicking it open with a loud thud that sent the two men in the small room yelping out of their chairs. Narrow emerald green eyes that were flaring with determination, as well as something that others could have easily mistaken as madness, raced through the room until he found the board that held all keys to Balamb Garden's cars. With two steps he had reached it, randomly tearing a neatly numbered key off a hook.
"H-hey!! You can't do that!"
He silenced the man who had stepped up behind him by jerking his right arm up in an acute angle, crushing his fist and forearm into the other man's face. His opposite dropped to his knees, howling and grasping his nose that was spluttering blood all over the place.
Seifer didn't care.
Pushing by the startled and fearfully paralysed second vehicle officer, he entered the garage and searched for his car frantically.
"Number 14, number 14, number 14, fuck..."
His fist was curled tightly around the key, metal carving sharply into the flesh of his palm, almost cutting off the blood flow. He was too consumed by his anxiety and alarm to even notice.
Finally, he found what he had been looking for: a large yellow jeep, luckily enough one of the kind that would easily comply with a rough overland ride. He shoved inside quickly, starting the motor and slamming the gas pedal before he had even fully sat down.
With screeching tires and his hands clenched around the steering wheel, Seifer hurled through the garage and hit one of the laser controls for the gate, causing the huge doors to slowly hiss aside and emit him into the darkness and the rage of the storm.
Even if his eyes had found the rear view mirror, he would not have seen the red alarm sirens lighting up and shrieking in a tantrum of acoustic violence.
It wouldn't have made a difference, either way.
=To be continued!=
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