Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to the Final Fantasy series. They belong to Squaresoft.

This chapter is dedicated to my friend Kail, who is a wonderful person, a talented artist and writer, and who has been going through the roughest of times. Even though she had a "man to save the day", I know that things are not easy on her right now. My best wishes go out to you Kail, I hope that they will reach you :) May you always have a guardian angel watching over you, wherever your life may lead you, and may you never stop smiling.

Let Me Make It Alright

Chapter 47: For You

By Angry Angel

*
I am vision, I am justice
Never thought that I could love
Been living in shadows
Faded existence
It was never good enough

Within the darkness
You are the light
That shines away
You're trapped in violence
I can be that man
Who saves the day

-"For You" by The Calling

*

 

"That's enough!!"

Two words and a thoroughly unpleasant tone of voice did everything to reclaim Seifer's and Squall's attention. They felt as if they had been spouted out of a pleasant fairy tale, harshly and without a warning, only to crash upon the unforgiving hardness of the onyx surfaced ground with a soundless thud. Hopeful dreams and gentle visions of love and desire apparently meant nothing in this witch-made dimension of illusions. It was a dire lection to be learning, but even so, a most necessary one without a doubt.

Even if they did not need to forget the past that lay between them, they still needed to cease to dwell on it if they wanted to stand a chance in preserving a future together.

And thus, reality had them back.

Of course, they should have slapped one another sharply for their careless ignorance of Ultimecia's looming presence, and admittedly, that intention of girding themselves for well-deserved punishment had crawled darkly across each of their minds.

But then again, who could have really blamed them?

Broken spells, shyly avowed feelings and a dangerous dance atop the edge of a knife that could have very well put an end to either of their young lives without a doubt, the past five or so minutes had been engaging ones.

On top of that, even if at some point in history either of them might have denied it, they were 'only' human after all.

Still, even more so shocked and contrite were the SeeD commander and his older friend over their own lapidary failure in prioritizing a repeated annihilation of the sorceress above their own, private emotions. They should have known better, considering that they were well trained soldiers with countless years of experience to their names and many a scar etched into their skin, each of them silent evidence of a past that had never been short of battles and violence.

On the other hand, maybe said blood strewn past was quite the core of their recurrent problems?

Either way, there was obviously no time to wonder, and thus two young faces were contorted in mutual compunction when two boys forced their sapphire and peridot gazes to abandon their counterpart's reflection and slide leftways into the direction that Ultimecia's high-pitched voice had been erected from.

Apparently, the witch had risen from her bizarre throne during the devolution of their intimate revelations, and the sudden stiffness to her formerly lax pose was mute testimony to her smoldering fury.

At the woman's side, the arcane guardian Griever was as ceremoniously motionless as ever.

Ultimecia, however, was less furtive in the display of her apparently unsettled state of mind. After all, she had remained quiet long enough, entangled in that heroic spectacle of friendship, trust and love, each of which said emotions she despised even more than the other.

It was time to put those unmannerly boys back into their place.

"Enough of this nonsense."

Afar from her, the gunbladers had huddled closer together instinctively; finally, they were uniting against the common foe.

According to Ultimecia's opinion, they were almost amusing to watch.

Squall, the SeeD that had always been fashionably sensitive but too cool to care, would shift from one foot onto another restlessly, piercing the man at his side with curt side glances out of true blue eyes that tried to appear secure, but in which the calm had long been shattered. Those eyes didn't want to take in the guilt from Seifer's viridian oculates, nor did they want to accept the concern that was rippling across the stern green surface.

Forcing down the dry lump jarred inside his throat and digging his fingers into his palms, the brunette struggled to convince himself that there was not a thing to worry about. He had defeated this evil before, and he would defeat it again. How, he did not know yet, but he had never been one to waver or dismay. He had too much to lose, too much to protect, and he would protect it, come hell or high water.

After all, he was Squall Leonhart, and he carried that name for a reason.

All in all, Squall wasn't entirely sure how to go about this battle, though. Usually, he took ample time to study his enemies, took assessment of their strengths and their weaknesses. This time, though, he had been caught by surprise, and though he could still pin-point several of the sorceress' assets and flaws, he was painfully robbed of means to oppose her with.

One definite weakness, of course, was Ultimecia's foolish condescence concerning his person, which was just too obvious in her words and in her dismissive looks; it was so obvious that Squall didn't quite know what to make of it. Questions were raking his mind for answers that he did not have.

Why hadn't Ultimecia finished them off while they had been too wrapped up in their conversation? Did she really hold that much faith into her (professedly) intricately spun nets of deception and treason that she would allow herself such a stuporous slip-up?

Apparently so.

Squall started to seriously cudgel is brain over the question of whether Ultimecia's powers had increased significantly throughout the imprisonment in his sword, or whether she was plainly smitten by serious delusions of grandeur. In any case, she was no longer outnumbered like she had once been, and that simple fact alone could provide for more trouble than either of the boys had bargained for.

They would have to be very careful.

"Your incompetence is sordid," the iniquitous woman suddenly spat, "as are those pathetic feelings that you'd so like to label 'love'. That 'love' of yours is nothing but an illusion that I have revoked, it was never anything else! You insolent children are mere puppets in my show. I, and I alone, pull the strings that give your petty lives a meaning, don't you ever forget that!"

Her ferocious amber eyes had narrowed to mere smudged slits as her voice ascended new levels of abhorrence, and Squall noticed how the long fingers of her pale right hand were coiling restlessly. He knew of the wordless threat embedded in that seemingly inconspicious gesture, and with the instincts of a battle steeled mercenary, his gaze immediately started to scan the grounds for their cast-away gunblades.

Sighing in relief, Squall noted that at least Seifer's Hyperion was within reach.

As if the blonde had followed his friend's train of thought, he too was now staring down upon the crimson stained blade that lay forebodingly in short distance of his feet. It would be easy enough to grasp its hilt, really, it was waiting for him only a curt leap afar.

Still..

As Seifer was still debating whether or not overly abrupt movements were exactly a brilliant idea in their current situation, Squall begun to roam the back of his mind for halfway useful spells. He had to deflect his junctioned magic and guardian forces, transforming his natural warrior type layout into that of a spellcaster. The reasons for this change in balance was obvious; he didn't actually fool himself into believing that LionHeart resembled more than a mere bread knife now, considering that all of its super natural energies had been drained dry like a creek in the cactaur desert.

Apparently, Ultimecia agreed with the SeeD's unspoken woes entirely, and she never grew tired of vocalizing her opinion, if only to hear herself talk.

"Your pitiful skills and useless weapons can do nothing to harm me," she denounced boastfully. "LionHeart has lost all power to unleash limit breaks, without which you will never be able to even dream of causing me noteworthy damage. And even if that sword was fully effective, you possess neither the strength nor the prowess to defeat me, SeeD. You boys are insects that I will squash beneath the bottom of my heels, and there is nothing that either of you could do about it... least of all you, failure of a sorceress knight!"

Seifer's ears perked up at the sneer that had doubtlessly been aimed at him, and he was momentarily distracted from the unyielding form of his sword. Snarling ever so softly and glowering darkly out forest green eyes, he shifted into a purposely cocky position, leisurely crossing his arms in front of his chest and tilting his chin a few inches towards the sky. He did have to force himself to ignore the patch of drying blood that was signing one of his hands, but he didn't allow a shadow of guilt or weakness to tide across his features at the sight.

Or so he thought, anyway.

"Your life is as meaningless as it has always been. While your eager little SeeD companion can die with the pitiful knowledge that at least once, he was blessed with the luck of surviving a battle concurred with my very self, you have never been anything short of a vast and pathetic failure," Ultimecia declared with a voice soft as thunder, before she suddenly levitated her casting hand before her chest and it came ablaze in an unexpected shroud of black light.

"Your have proved your utter redundancy on yet another occasion, so fall witness to the eradication that all failures are doomed to bend their knees to."

Every fibre of Seifer's unrelenting body froze in mute shock when the fatal danger that Squall had already been anticipating uncoiled before their very eyes. It unraveled in the simplest flick of a hand that was raised high above the slate haired sorceress' head; a thrust of muscles that seemed lanky, yet bore incredible magical fortitude. For the length of a heartbeat, Seifer thought that he had seen something similar before, but he was too graveled to contemplate the odd familiarity of the gesture any further.

This definitely wasn't the time to be thinking.

This was the time to be acting.

Dropping low into his knees, Seifer pivoted on the spot with the innate suppleness of a predator, his fingers stretching and reaching for the one thing that promised him a mirage of safety - Hyperion.

Seifer had never before truly battled a magician, and in the haste of the moment he failed to realize that swords and armor were of little protection against the lethal spell work invoked by a sorceress of Ultimecia's competence. Yet, in his earnest wish to do just one thing right and to finally guard the man that he had sworn to protect, he would only rely whole-heartedly upon the weapon that had served him loyally throughout the years.

Spells, Seifer had none to whip up, anyway.

.. Much unlike somebody else.

Squall could merely estimate how much power exactly Ultimecia's building incantation would unleash in due course, but contrary to Seifer he was proficient in his knowledge concerning combat against magical foes; paired with the unrelenting urge to ward the man that he loved against all possible harm, said knowledge did everything in pushing the brunette to step boldly in front of Seifer's squatted figure and snap his right hand to his forehead in the heralded conjuration of a spell of his own.

The understanding of what Squall was doing came to Seifer much too late. As he turned in his position, he saw the orange, resonating light that spilled from Squall's hands and wrapped around the brunette's slim figure in the spherical embodiment of a 'shell' incantation, but he never did see the sustained, sharp slivers of rock-hard onyx that Ultimecia had whirled at them in an absurd effigy of Edea Kramer's blizzard palm.

Squall had placed his lithe body between Seifer and the sorceress like a shield of flesh and blood, and even though he was aware of the danger, he paid it no heed. He was willing to chance his luck, test his skills and risk his life for the safety of that blonde guy that he adored so much.

He didn't even think on it a second.

Love... does strange things to people. It crosses boundaries, tears down barriers and chases away even the most engrained fears. Warriors become lovers, attackers become defenders, darkness becomes light. It takes a will, a risk - maybe even a sacrifice.

And he who pays the piper sometimes calls the tune.

In reward for his baled and risky courage, the flawless shell barrier that Squall had erected about himself managed to deflect and shatter every of the lethal missiles that had originally been sent to kill the sorceress knight. They deflagrated in a flare of black and orange light, vanishing into nothingness before their last residual shreds of ash even hit the ground.

Apparently, fortune did favor the brave.

And thus, Seifer allowed himself to heave a sigh of relief as he was bathing in the afterglow of the affirmation that Ultimecia's onslaught had been averted with skill and with ease. While his right hand quickly snatched Hyperion's hilt and his legs snapped back into an upright position, his lips quirked into a triumphant version of his trademark smirk. He chuckled, ready to mock the witch and thank his saviour, but his negligent knowledge of basic shield magic made no attempt at stirring in the crevices of his memory.

Not until he saw Squall staggering.

After that, everything happened much too fast for Seifer to comprehend. His torn-wide eyes were nailed to his friend's back, to every string of muscle moving beneath the thin fabric of his white shirt, and to the tousled strands of deep brown hair that were swaying so very softly as Squall's knees bent and buckled beneath him.

The gentle orange glow that had still been surrounding Squall's body even as it had collapsed was submitting to the darkness at last, and Seifer finally came to see the long, splintered cones of black rock protruding cruelly from the crestfallen form of his friend's figure.

And then he remembered.

..::: "Shell. Reduces the damage received by magic attacks by half. Provides no protection against physical damage." :::..

Those mechanic words, rooting from some boring Garden lecture software that he had once been forced to study, were echoing loudly inside Seifer's head in the nascence of a disbelieving cry that was only stifled by his terror.

Other than that, he heard nothing.

He didn't blink. He didn't move. He didn't even breathe. All he could do was stare down upon Squall's figure as it was kneeling there on the ground, its head bowed heavily and its quivering arms planted down before it as a last anchor against gravity.

And still there was no sound stirring the air.

When control and consciousness ultimately surged back into Seifer's blood, though, it was comparable to the sensation of oxygen that was fed to a drowning victim; his lungs remembered how to function, and the jagged breath he sucked hungrily through his trembling windpipe almost quelled the name that he finally managed to thrust out in dismay.

"Squall!!"

He abandoned his position at Squall's back and circled him, immediately crashing down upon his own two knees before him. There was no need for the blonde to perform a full assessment of the damage dealt to Squall to know that those wounds were severe.

Three jagged shards of onyx had violently pierced his friend's torso and lacerated his flesh worse than any sword ever could have done; one sliver had stopped clean in Squall's already blood-strewn left biceps, while the other two had foraminated the SeeD's ribcage and his shoulder.

Even straining his imagination, Seifer could not fathom the pain that such injures must be inflicting upon his friend. He remembered vaguely how a similar attack had been launched at the brunette a long time ago, but he could not recall how the wounds had been treated back then. His knowledge of medicine was zilch to sparse, but injuries of such measures were probably not mendable by the simple use of a potion or a curaga, anyway.

Not that he had either to begin with.

Yet again, Seifer wanted to cry out in a raw burst of emotion, but the only sound he managed to produce was a feeble, pleading wail.

"Squall... Squall, no..."

Seifer's voice was little more than the shadow of a whisper as it was quaking with the shock that was resonating deep within his soul. He was rendered helpless, too afraid to even touch his younger opposite and possibly cause more damage than had already been done. He told himself that there had to be something that he could do, something to ease Squall's agony, but the answers wouldn't come to him, no matter how hard he fought for them.

Squall himself was silent, hissing hoarsely as every breath he drew seemed to burn him from within. He was hurting too much to understand what had happened, and he was too focused on keeping his body from simple careening on its side.

Something had gone wrong.

Even so, he knew who was with him. He could hear Seifer's trembling voice before him, muttering words that he couldn't decipher but that still managed to soothe the terror in his heart.

Eventually, he strove to speak despite the blonde man's protests, and he finally managed to heave his voice to a crawl as he gazed into Seifer's face with paralyzing disbelief.

"Seifer... I..."

It was too difficult.

Squall's eyes engrossed and focused aimlessly as he cast them down upon the ground beneath him, fighting anew for the power to speak. Even for someone of his fortitude, the pain was almost unbearable. Claws of fire had been laid upon his body, digging into his shoulder, his arm and his chest without even a shadowed concept of mercy or compassion. Mist was passing before him, taking siege of his sight, and the color of his skin had become stark against the darkness.

Squall's weakness, however, was Seifer's strength. Hearing his loved one's struggling voice lightened the fires inside of his soul that had been quenched by the initial shock, and after he had dropped his gunblade once more his arms finally engulfed the brunette's body, preserving it from its imminent downfall.

"No, don't speak," he whispered as he brought his head to the brunette's ear. "I'm here. It's gonna be alright, you hear me?"

The moment that Seifer's skin made contact with Squall's, something happened that the blonde had neither expected, nor was able to conceive.

The onyx disappeared from Squall's flesh without note, scurrying into a fine haze of dust and ash with unnatural quickness. To add to the surprise, the shards left behind neither blood nor open wounds, but judging by the sudden eruption of an embryonic moan from the brunette's lips, this new development was yet far from a good one.

"Squall," Seifer stuttered nervously, while supporting the younger with all the gentleness that he could muster. "What's going on? What-"

He cringed at the cold, satisfied laughter that rung from afar.

"Foolish boy. You really thought that a simple shell could intervene with my evocation?" She managed to produce yet another of those nightmare-material laughs, stirring Seifer's despair to kindle with anger. "Foolish, foolish boy."

The blonde threw a curt glance across his shoulder, watching how the sorceress sank into her throne once more, her feline eyes shining with utmost complacency.

Snorting, he elided her innuendo and readjusted his focus back to Squall, rubbing lankily along the nape of the brunette's filigree neck. He could feel Squall flinching beneath his touch, and the brunette's head was a mass of tremors against Seifer's chest.

"It's okay, it's gonna be okay," the older mumbled reassuringly. "That stuff is gone, you'll be fine, you hear?"

He should have expected the maleficent giggle that followed his attempt at soothing the wretched figure in his arms.

He probably had, too.

"Don't get your hopes up, boy. Your beloved SeeD is far from unscathed."

Clamping his teeth down upon his dry lips, Seifer carried on ignoring the witch, and he carefully tilted Squall's chin up with one hand. The brunette's jaw was tense and the muscles running down the length of his throat tight as he forced himself to gulp repeatedly against the pain. It had lessened somehow after the disappearance of the invading objects, but that observation offered no comfort. He knew that something was wrong all the same.

Seifer read Squall's agony, reflected in the fine lines of his face and the askew glow in his wide eyes, and it broke his heart.

Once again, he had failed.

Seifer told himself that this entire situation was yet again to chalk to his account; Squall had tried to protect him, when really, the roles should have been reversed. Hadn't the brunette placed himself in the line of fire to protect his foolish friend, he wouldn't be wounded now. He'd be fine, he'd be well, he'd be anything, just not injured and in pain.

This wasn't fair.

If either of them deserved torture and pain, it was him, not Squall. Squall was the living personification of everything good and pure. Nothing he had ever done had happened out of selfishness; he had never asked for a damned thing for himself. He was the guy that would fight for a lost cause, the guy that would save an entire planet and think nothing of it, the guy that would endure greatest pain and desecration, the guy that would neither surrender nor succumb.

He was the guy that placed himself in harm's way to protect the people that he thought worthy of protection.

Fuck, he didn't deserve this.

Finally, Seifer snarled defiantly. He'd fix this, somehow, and he would make up for it for the rest of his life if need be. Squall had paid dearly for saving him, and now it was time that Seifer'd make the sorceress foot her part of the bill.

That bitch was going down.

Seifer's rancorous expression softened apprehensively though, when Squall was coughing rasply in his arms.

"Shhh," Seifer cooed soothingly. "Don't move so much. You're hurt."

"Nhh..."

One sound from Squall's lips was enough to efface all anger and bitterness from Seifer's frame of mind, at least for the moment. With utmost care, he cradled the brunette in his arms and commenced to rock him slowly. There wasn't much else for him to do, and once again he cursed himself for never carrying any spells.

Damned be his cockiness.

As another cough stirred Squall's body, Seifer cast a worried look at the pale face rested against his chest. He froze immediately at the unexpected sight of thick, blackish liquid spilling from the brunette's mouth in a bubbling splutter. Concerned, the older gunblader used his index finger to run it across the rosy surface of his friend's lips, examining closely what Squall had coughed up there. It smelled fumy like oil almost and was equally greasy and slippery in nature, but there was that strange greenish tint to it that Seifer just couldn't place.

It was too dark and digressive in color to be blood, but then, what was it?

Glancing past his spotted finger at Squall, he laced his eyebrows together in concern.

'Whatever this is, it sure the hell doesn't look good. What am I gonna do...?"

He decided on lowering Squall further onto the ground for the time being, allowing him to lay back-down in order to ease his laborious breathing. Seifer actually regretted not having taken his trench coat, it would have served perfectly as a pillow. Not that it came as much of a surprise; he was obviously never prepared for the real important things.

Inwardly, he growled.

As soon as he could rest halfway assured that Squall was at least somewhat comfortable, Seifer rotated his body in his squatting position and stretched his hand for his gunblade once more. He knew that the sorceress was watching him, and he flicked his gaze up to meet her's.

"What did you do, bitch?" he snarled aggressively. "What the fuck did you do to him?"

Seifer wrenched his strong fingers tightly around the cloth strewn hilt of Hyperion, tingeing it black with the unknown execration from Squall's body. Neither the cold fury and hot temper in his voice, nor the mute threat implemented in the gesture of seizing his weapon did anything to impress the queen of all witches, though.

Still, for some inscrutable reason, she seemed all too happy to comply with Seifer's not-so-polite 'request'.

"It'll be my pleasure to tell you," she replied calmly, "Even though you will not be able to draw any use from the knowledge."

Seifer shot her a death-glare that said more than a thousand words, and with a curl of his nose and a flash in his eyes, he motioned her to continue.

"He has been... kursed, you could say. One of his lungs has been crushed and infected by the onyx that penetrated his body," she elaborated impassively. "It was poisonous, you see, an attack that I once adopted and honed from a witch named Larva. She was incompetent, and I believe she seceded her meager powers to that traitor Edea. I believe she was the one who appointed you her sorceress knight."

She shrugged carelessly, which caused the wings at her back to flutter just slightly against her throne and spill a rain of black feathers to the ground.

"It matters not, either way," she continued, while fixing Seifer with a stare that was thoroughly disturbing. "All that you need to know is that with every breath he takes, every move he makes and with every word that he speaks, my venom is spreading inside his veins, contaminating every fibre of his weak little body."

And then, she smiled. The gesture in itself was so falsely sweet and grotesque that it sickened Seifer to his very core, and his stomach coiled with blatant disgust.

Worse than everything, though, were the cataclysmic words that Ultimecia pushed blithely past her lips that were still quirked into that abomination of goodness.

"He is dying."

For a moment, Seifer became very still.

..::: "He is dying." :::..
..::: "He is dying." :::..
..::: "He is dying." :::..

'... No. No, that can't be. No. No fucking way. No.'

The shock and disbelief were etched into Seifer's angular features as he lowered his gaze to Squall once more. The brunette seemed emotionless, caught up in his battle against the hurt, but there was a certain apathy to his eyes that Seifer did not like. Still, he let out a violent hiss of air and spat out at Ultimecia.

"Fuck you, you're lying!"

She breathed another demented laugh, but apparently she was growing tired of talking to the blonde.

"Fool. You know that it's true as well as I do. Just look at him, watch how he's fading. His death is no longer a question of 'if', merely a question of 'when'."

'No.'

"That SeeD runt is dying like a sapling in the chill of winter. Sown, but never reaped, he will soon become one with the shadows that he feared so terribly."

In any other situation, Seifer might have laughed coldly at such an absurd statement, or maybe he would have cried desperately had he allowed himself to, but not this time and not in this life. Instead, his soul was aflame with anger and hate at the display of such cankered bliss over the tragic fate of a guy that would have brought any gentle heart to weep.

And as all said gentleness left his face and his mind, his will was dominated by the urge to brandish his sword into that wickedly satisfied smile and eradicate it from the sorceress' countenance with all the scorching violence he'd ever be able to gather into one single blow.

Oh yes.

He was berserk with fury.

"Your precious love is dying, and there is not a thing that you could do about it, Seifer Alexander Almasy."

Words - throbbing with satisfaction, aimed to frighten and to pain, and they did not fail their purpose.

Seifer was angry, and he was scared.

Scared for the guy that he loved.

The guy that Ultimecia had hurt.

"Fuck you!!"

Anger, hate, despair, fear, love it didn't matter. At length, the reasons for his decision were trivial.

She was going to pay for what she had done.

As long as there was still a spark of life in him, he would make sure that Ultimecia would not harm Squall ever again.

Not in this lifetime, and not in any that were to follow.

He practically catapulted himself from his perching position into a full stance, immediately flipping up his deadly blade and leveling it beside his body in the perfect extension of his sword arm. He never stopped in his movement; hot-headedly, he was charging for Ultimecia's distant figure like a man that had nothing to lose and everything to gain. He paid not the glimpse of a heed to the soft snarl that passed across the witch's features, much less to the dastard glint that came alight in her amber oculates.

More importantly though, he never heard Squall's voice, floating barely above the level of a tantalized wail, as it was strandedly calling his name.

Seifer wanted to see nothing, and he wanted to hear nothing, and though perfectly noble the intents of such ignorance might have been, they caused him to sprint open-eyed into the face of an enemy that was far beyond his skill to slay.

Squall knew that.

Ultimecia knew that, too.

Seifer didn't care.

Perhaps, had he hesitated just for a while and taken the time to funnel his keen energies to produce one of his resoundingly powerful limit breaks, yes, perhaps he would have even inflicted a significant amount of damage upon his target. Rage and passion, however, had absorbed all of his reason and his senses, and thus laid the soil for events to unfurl that had become inevitable the moment that Seifer had risen his sword to strike.

At the other end of the spur, a trembling brunette was rendered powerless and broken, but he was also far from giving in. Even though every nerve in his body was lashing out at him in protest, he pushed himself onto his left elbow and rolled onto his side, drawing arduous breaths through ground teeth as he flicked his gaze past askew strands of chocolate brown hair to the charging figure of his friend.

"Seif... Seifer, don't..."

He found himself wishing for the ability to scream, to shout, to cry, but it would not come to him. Instead, his voice was weak and tarnished, trickling from his chest in a wet bubble that would have caused any physician to yelp in a frenzy of concern. He knew all too well that he was hurt, severely if not fatally, but his own fate mattered little to him at that point.

His gaze was locked onto Seifer.

The blonde was sprinting for the throne of the sorceress, and the simple fact alone that Ultimecia hadn't even bothered to arise from her seat was troubling enough. She was awaiting the angry knight, calmly so, not even batting as much as a lash or a feather at his rapid approach.

"Stop... stop..."

Clenching his hands to fists so hard that his knuckles turned white, Squall fought like a lion to interrupt Seifer's sprint. He dug into his own mind, trying to grasp some sort of spell that would aid him, but it was all too clear that there was simply no way in Hyne's Heaven or Devil's Hell that Squall Leonhart would be casting any magic whatsoever in his present condition.

He'd have to watch, and watch was all that he could.

The realization brought tears to well up in his eyes, and he struggled to keep his vision from blurring.

"Stop... Please..."

"He cannot hear you."

Squall's head stunned back at the sound of a voice that he had never heard before. It had spoken very softly somehow, even if it hadn't exactly been oozing with kindness, either. It was strangely familiar, though Squall was almost positively sure that he had never once heard it in his life. Before he was able to contemplate the origin of said voice any further, though, his attention was yet again diverted by something that was of far greater importance to him at that point.

Seifer had reached the sorceress.

Hyperion was lifted to the ebony sky like the fated sickle of an angel of death, ready to claim the life of a warlock that had threatened the world and its people just one too many times. There was no mercy in that gesture, no forgiveness, just the devotion of a man that was willing to defend the one that he loved at the cost of his own life and the purity of his soul.

He was willing to enter any pact that he must, and with the devil himself if need be, if only he would be able to put an end to the sorceress' foul existence.

And thus, Seifer brought his gunblade down upon the witch with the force of a guillotine behind his blow, funneling all his resentment and his faith into the one strike that was supposed to rid the world, and Squall above all people, from the evil that was Ultimecia.

His intent had been a noble one indeed, but his faith did still forsake him.

The moment that Hyperion came down upon the sorceress like an avalanche of silver, Seifer finally came to realize that he had made a terrible mistake. At length, he saw the woman's eyes, saw the triumphant glint searing in those amber depths as he stood right in front of her, but it had become too late for him to react or change his course.

Hence, he was met with the effect of a spell that he should have expected a long time ago and that held enough infliction to cause death in the matter of an instant. He didn't know what it was and when the witch had cast it upon herself, but it was stronger than anything he had ever seen and, most of all, stronger than anything that he had ever felt.

His body seemed to be exploding from the inside as he drove Hyperion square onto the perfect sphere shape of a mighty protection spell. There was light, lots of it, just as there was a detonation of sounds deep within his ears..

.. paired with the caustic noise of shattering metal.

From afar, Squall was forced to watch the scene and remain frozen to the only posture that his wounded body would permit. He couldn't even shout when he saw how Hyperion was dashed to pieces at the contact with Ultimecia's unbelievable barrier; a barrier that appeared to expand, to grow in its spherical form and produce an aftershock wave that sent Seifer himself several feet through the air until he collapsed somewhere between the motionless figures of Ultimecia and Squall.

After the clattering sound of metal on stone had eventually subsided, long minutes passed in a void of silence.

Then there was... something.

Seifer was lying on his back, he managed to pin down at least that much about his situation. Above him, the sky was black and distanceless. Or maybe his eyes were still closed? He could be blind, perhaps. It was strangely difficult to tell.

Gingerly, the blonde rolled his head to the side after he had, according to his own clouded judgement, opened his eyes at least a slit afar. His neck ached at the movement. His head did, too. As a matter of fact, his entire body hurt, or at least it was too straining for him to locate the exact fountains of said pain.

There was, however, one good thing. He could see something fuzzy that looked like his arm, and after he had blinked combatively against the bleariness in his vision, he could confirm his first impression with a sigh.

His throat hurt doing that, too.

He forgot all about the pain, though, when he saw a black and whitish dot in the distance beyond the outline of his arm. That spectrum of colors had always been associated with one single person in his mind.

Forever and always and probably beyond that, too, black and white was..

'Squall... Squall...? Squall!'

"Sq...q..."

His first attempt at speaking was hopeless though and, for that matter, almost non-existent. His mouth was dry and sticky, sort of as if he had devoured a box of chalks in a mad onset of animalistic hunger. It was a thoroughly unpleasant experience, really.

His sights were clearing though, even if he didn't particularly approve of what he saw; the black and white speck did indeed turn out to be Squall, which could have been a relief in itself, hadn't it been for the fact that the disobedient brunette was apparently working on crossing the steps between himself and Seifer on his damned hands and knees.

Groaning, Seifer flipped onto his side as nimbly as he could, forming his lips to mumble words that became less jumbled by the second.

"Squ... stop! S...Squall... don't!"

He had no idea how similar his pleas were to the ones that had been uttered from Squall's mouth just minutes before, but they were equally effectless in their outcome. Squall's once ethereal face was ghastly pale and wryly contorted as he was pressing his arm upon his stomach, but he seemed as unyielding in his efforts of reaching Seifer as anyone could possibly be.

The blonde frowned.

"Stay... you... you're poisoned. Don't... I'm coming..."

Of course, that was much easier stammered than done. His body hurt, he had no idea what he was doing and how on Hyne's earth he was going to be able to stand upon his feet. He felt as if a chocobo stampede had trampled him into the ground, and that was not a nice feeling by any means.

.. Whatever, no time for wimpishness.

He was astounded to find himself able to roll onto his stomach and, after sucking in some earnest, deep breaths, push himself up onto his hands and knees. The pain was ever present, of course, but it was fairly blunt and had begun to wade in bearable levels.

Clumsily, he lowered himself backwards to rest upon his shins and cast another look at Squall.

The brunette had halted in his struggles, if only to stare at Seifer with incredulous eyes. Judging by his expression, he probably hadn't expected his friend to be quite this mobile after the retaliated attack.

The attack.

'Damn.'

Frowning, Seifer gazed aimlessly around his position, and he finally discovered Ultimecia still sitting in her designated throne. She was sporting her usual amused and complacent sneer, and Seifer could feel himself trembling anew in anger, particularly when his eyes fell upon shards of silver that looked painfully like scraps of Hyperion's blade.

'Glorious.'

The sorceress seemed unwilling to attack them for the time being, or maybe she was simply not interested just yet, but even if Seifer's impression of the witch's mindset would prove to be incorrect, there was little that he'd be able to do to prevent an assault on either him or Squall.

Squall.

Immediately, his jade green stare whipped around again to the place that it had last spotted Squall. The brunette was still cowering in the same position, sitting very tensely with his legs entangled beneath his body and his free arm placed on the ground for support. His eyes were wide and his lips crushed to a narrow line, and he sat so still that it started to seriously worry Seifer.

"Stay," he ordered more firmly now, "I'm coming... stay."

He thought that he had heard a faint giggle in the background, but he paid no greater attention to it. Seifer didn't care much about being subject to the witch's amusement anymore; in their current situation, he was gladly willing to accept any aspect that didn't involve poisonous onyx or explosive barriers.

Fortunately, Squall was obeying the blonde's command more readily now, if only because he was unable to drag his broken body any further. Gritting his teeth and fighting for balance, Seifer managed to unfold his legs and flail his arms in search for support that, really, wasn't existent. He did well though, much better than he had expected, and he blamed it on the simple fact that Squall was watching his every movement very closely. By all means, Seifer definitely did not want to take the risk of falling and giving his brunette junior another excuse to aggravate his condition any further.

Walking, however, was still rather troublesome. The rock beneath him was chopped and uneven, and his head was spinning like an out-of-control carrousel, but for fucking Hyne's sake, he was going to reach Squall even if the witch would decide to nail him to the floor.

And so he did.

With a long suppressed and weary moan, he once again collapsed onto his shins before the brunette.

"Squall."

The eighteen year old was staring at him as if he was a headless wonder, but there was sadness in his eyes that erased all humor from that expression. Squall saw well the many wounds that had been inflicted upon his friend's frame by the contact of unrelenting rock with sensitive flesh, and they concerned him deeply, even if none of those lesions would have meant any serious trouble in an ordinary situation.

Everything was different now, though.

As he saw the grave frown dragging across Squall's ethereal features, Seifer felt the desperate urge to place his fingers upon the brunette's snow pale skin, to stroke his cheek and tell him that everything would be alright somehow... but that belief had left him a long time ago. Squall was poisoned, wounded beyond any condition that would have allowed him to perform even the simplest of spells, and both of them were without a decent weapon. Of course, he could try to draw magic from the brunette, but he expected the pain for Squall to be much greater than the actual benefit for either of them. Hurt had a nasty habit of erecting mental barriers that were hard to penetrate.

Hence, Seifer could do nothing but smile sadly and lean into Squall's touch as the brunette gingerly placed his hand on Seifer's chest. The magic that echoed between them so powerfully at a contact of such simplicity should have been granted the power to drive out all evil, but unfortunately reality did not bargain that way.

Their love held no infliction over sorcery.

"Seifer," Squall finally whispered with a crack to his voice, "You're hurt..."

"I'm fine," Seifer replied with a forced smirk. "Don't worry about me, Squall."

"But he has all reason to worry."

The succeeding grunt that left Seifer's throat was a guttural blend of exasperation and torment, and he was almost reluctant to face once more the bearer of that nasty comment. Of course, it was Ultimecia, and she was studying them with nonchalant boredom.

As Seifer pivoted slowly on the spot, still upon the low of his legs, he ensured to hide Squall from the witch's view as best as he could. If she meant to harm the brunette again, and there was no doubt in Seifer's mind that she did, she'd have to do it past the cold of his corpse.

"Aww. How touching," the sorceress mocked. "Our two lovers are united at the threshold of their discreation. At last, your silly struggles have proved to be worthless. You should have listened to me from the beginning, you would have been spared a painful end."

"As if," Seifer snorted coldly.

The woman was watching him very quietly. Her hand played around the purse of her lips, and her golden glazed oculates were fixed upon the bent figures of her toys with sudden newly aroused interest.

And toys they were, indeed.

"Maybe there is still one thing that you can do."

Blinking, Seifer had to run that odd statement past his bleary attention once more.

''Maybe there is still one thing that you can do?' The fuck?'

What dirty plans was she working on this time?

Glowering at her darkly, he waited for her to continue.

"If you kill the SeeD, I will spare your life."

For a second there, Seifer thought that his clash with the sorceress' magic had rendered him hearing impaired. Did she really just say that? Was she honestly thinking that he was going to hold any sort of infliction upon Squall's life to save his own?

"Drop dead."

She chuckled in amusement at his reply, but apparently she wasn't quite finished with him just yet.

"Think about it... he is dying one way or another, it's only a matter of time. Why sacrifice yourself over the man that has ignored you for years on end? He doesn't love you, anyway. What's the point? Kill him, and you have my word that you will survive."

"As if you'd ever hold to any word that left that foul mouth of your's anyway, bitch!!"

Still, she was smiling, and her voice was a sickening blend of mock sweetness and unconcealed persuasion.

"You are of no danger to me, Seifer Almasy. Whether you die or live means little in my equation of the plans that I hold for this planet. Your SeeD, however, will die, whether you will perform the task or not. His time has come, as has the time of all others that stand in his rows of sorceress slayers. Choose wisely who you sacrifice yourself for, boy."

Just as Seifer was about to spew out and thrust his concentrated outrage over Ultimecia's ridiculous offer into the darkness of their progressing nightmare, something behind him stirred and raised his voice to a soft whisper.

"Do it."

The order had been little louder than the wail of a wind's current rustling in a tree, but it slowed Seifer's heartbeat to a leaden crawl all the same. Whirling around with a gasp, he stared at Squall in honest and scandalized disbelief, and he was even more shocked to find sapphire eyes shining with determination and stern calm.

"What??" he snapped in hysteria.

"She's right," Squall observed quietly. "I'm going to die, no matter what you do... and it's okay... really. I knew this day would come as soon as I joined with SeeD... but... I still want you to live, even so... So do it."

"Are you kidding me?" Seifer hissed. "Tell me you're joking!"

But there was no humor in Squall's eyes. His face was a mask, alive as much as it was dead. The only thing about him that still truly shone was his will to save Seifer's life even if it meant his own demise. He was willing to surrender his future for just the slightest chance of his love's survival.

"No. I'm not joking."

"Squall-"

"I want you to do it."

Far from them, the witch was smiling. Of course she hadn't seriously expected for Seifer to careen yet again, particularly not after she had tried and failed to dig into his mind once more. She had however assumed that Squall in all his remote purity and nobleness and love, and all those other annoying things, would order Seifer to do exactly what he had:

To kill him.

"Fuck, no!"

Apparently, his companion was unwilling to comply, though.

"I'm serious, Seifer," the brunette urged, while the frown on his face intensified. "Do it! Please, I don't..."

He paused, his lips trembling ever so slightly as tears came to his eyes and spangled against the ocean blue surface.

"I don't want you to die."

There was a heartfelt plea to his croaky voice, and it radiated from every line of his countenance as he dug his eyes into Seifer's.

"Please."

"I can't believe it... You're really serious..." Seifer breathed quietly.

"Yeah. Yeah, I am. There is nothing you can do for me, Seifer, except save yourself and maybe find a way to warn the others... That's all I want. And I'd rather you kill me than her."

The blonde in front of him could hardly suppress the wetness that threatened to spill down his cheeks as his heart was torn into shreds. This wasn't right, and he was not going to do it! Why would Squall ask this of him? Why? The mere thought was killing him.

Squall, however, was burning from within, his gaze aflame with the urge of changing Seifer's mind. He didn't want any of this, but his words had nevertheless been sincere.

If he was to die at the hands of anyone, he wanted that anyone to be Seifer.

And, above all things, he wanted the blonde to live.

Seifer had already saved him, there was nothing else for him to do. He had showed Squall love, the one thing that the brunette had never understood no matter how hard he had tried. He had taught his heart to leap and his soul to soar; he had taught him what it was like to be alive. It was all that he had needed to do to save Squall even beyond death, because love was, after all, eternal.

It was alright.

Really.

"But-"

"Don't think. Don't think, just fulfill my wish, please. I don't mind dying, as long as it's your doing."

"Squall..."

"It's okay," the brunette whispered. "It's honestly okay..."

But Seifer shook his head in fiercest reluctance.

"I can't."

"Yes, you can. Take LionHeart, it'll be quick. I don't want to be killed by her or by this damned poison. If you kill me, maybe you will somehow be able to live... and maybe... you can stop her, somehow. You're the last hope for this planet. There is no one else."

"No, there are others, and I'm not fucking letting you die, you better forget about that right fucking now!"

"Seifer," Squall chided him sadly, "There is nothing you can do anymore. You've done enough already. The past weeks were all the life that I needed. I... I was never happier."

"Squall, I-"

"I don't care if I die, as long as I know that you live on. That's all I want."

"But I don't want-"

With a sharp flick of his hand, the brunette cut him off.

"No. Do it."

As battered as Squall was, he had never been any more determined in his resolve. His stern order was almost bare of tremors, and his mind seemed set into stone.

Whether or not Ultimecia's offer could be be taken as genuine, and it most likely couldn't, didn't even matter to him all that much. He was desperate alright, and he wasn't even trying to deny it.

"Well?"

The witch's impatient inquiry was of little disturbance to them. Seifer simply could not bring his gaze to leave Squall's face, and he was bursting with raw emotions at the love and gentleness he read in those filigree lines beneath all the hastily slammed up severity and chill.

Squall was not the same anymore. He could no longer conjure up death glares and scowls at will, especially when Seifer was to be at the receiving end. His heart had been changed and warmed at last.

Maybe his words had been true after all.

Who was Seifer to deny those azure blue eyes any wish?

"Do it, please... I'm begging you."

And indeed, according to Squall's standards, he was begging. Begging for Seifer to end his life in the sorceress' stead and for the man that he loved to survive.

And he was scarily irresistible.

"Give me your answer."

Squall was barely moving his head, but it was all too obvious that he was nodding as his chin was gently tilting up and down. The urge in his eyes was almost bodily perceivable, and Seifer had difficulties to finally remove his gaze to turn around and grant his attention to the sorceress.

"Well?" she repeated. "Have you decided? Your friend seems to be strong in his resolve. This is what he wants. Be a good boy and comply with his wish. Take his life, and I will spare your's."

In mute indication, the woman's amber eyes shifted to the form of LionHeart that was suddenly resting strangely nigh. In fact, Seifer could have sworn that they had left it further behind, but he blamed it on the witch's spell work with ease. After all, he was neither blind nor stupid.

Still... Squall's words had made him think, and they had caused him to waver.

Had he been in Squall's position, he would have asked the exact same things from the brunette. Why? Because Squall Leonhart was the only person in the world at whose hands he would gladly perish, and he was the only one that he would surrender his life for in the matter of a heartbeat.

..::: "Do it." :::..

"Don't worry. It's alright. I'll... I'll always be in your heart."

Seifer's face contorted in agony at that softly whispered statement that was of a sweetness that had hardly ever laced the brunette's voice before. Indeed, Squall would always be living within him, and as long as Seifer lived on, so would Squall. He would be remembered, always. There would never be an end.

"Do it... for me..."

He swallowed, trying to gulp down the lump in his throat and the tears in his eyes. He didn't even want to turn around to look at Squall, because he knew that he would not be able to stand it. Squall's face held everything that he loved and that he held dear, everything that he wanted to preserve and to protect.

Everything.

Casting down his vision, he stared upon his hands. Countless men had died at the judgement of his blade, but none of them had ever affected Hyperion's bearer. None of them had ever made him shiver deep within, ever made him turn all of his strength inward to keep himself from breaking down as a crying wreck.

Yet, there he was, kneeling on the ground like a fallen angel, ready to weep over a wish he did not want to fulfill and over the blood of a hero that he did not want to spill.

He wanted none of this.

But, no matter how vigorously he tried to push the thought away, there was something that he had come to understand..

.. Even heroes had a right to bleed.

Slowly, he cocked his head into his neck and turned his vision heavenwards, finding himself gazing into the blackness of a sky that had never seen a single star. Closing his eyes, he let his arms go slack at his sides, his fingers loose and soft against his thighs as he tried to unclench from within.

..::: "Do it." :::..

He stayed that way for a while, breathing deeply and thinking of nothing at all, when he finally listened to the one only thing that had anything of importance to say..

.. His heart.

And as he slowly uncraned his neck and let his eyelids snap open over a perfect surface of viridian green, he raised upon one foot and one knee - the one unmistakable position of a knight that he had only ever assumed once before. And while his face drew into a defiant snarl, he levitated his arms into the air, pulling them up and back only so far as to make perfectly clear what this sudden shielding gesture was implying, and what his final answer had turned out to be.

"No."

Behind Seifer, the person that the blonde had been sheltering with wide-stretched arms and a guardian pose was lowering his face into his hands, sighing mournfully like a wounded animal in both relief and defeat.

He should have known all along.

"I don't care what you do to me," his blonde knight stated simply, "Or how painful my death might be. I will never in my life lay hand on him. Kill me, torture me, do whatever you please. It doesn't matter to me. But, rest assured, that no matter what you promise me or what he says, I will never harm him."

Squall was shaking his head in despair, wrenching his fingers into his hair as if that was going to change his friend's decision. He knew what it entailed, he knew what was going to happen and what Ultimecia would force him to see.

She was going to make Seifer pay dearly for this insolence.

His inapt valour would be his downfall.

"Why," he groaned in disbelief, "Why...?"

Before him, Seifer slowly turned around. Strands of golden hair fell smoothly into his face that was glowing with love, gentleness, and the knowledge of having made the right decision the moment that his peridot eyes were set upon Squall's trembling frame.

'Because I cannot hurt you, not ever.'

'Because you are that single star in those dark and endless skies.'

'Because even if you lived on inside my heart, I would never be happy again.'

'Because I'd rather spend one minute with you than face the rest of my life without you.'

'Because you're all I can think of, even when I don't think of anything at all.'

'Because everything beautiful and good is just an effigy of you.'

'Because I don't want to lose you.'

'Because...'

"Because..."

"I love you."

Sometimes, the best kind of answer is the simplest of them all.

Squall had heard those words before, countless times in countless years, but not once in his life had they filled his heart with so much surprise, joy and simple bliss, and never before had they streaked his cheeks with two silent trails of tears that glistened like stars reflected on a moonlit lake.

After all those years, he finally understood.

His childish fears, his steaning rigidness, his array of emotionless facades; he had been such a fool. This was love, in all its simple glory, and it was like nothing that had ever crossed his life before.

He was being loved, and that knowledge alone made him feel like the luckiest person alive.

And he wanted for nothing more than to return the gift that he had been given.

When the emotions that Squall had buried inside his soul mirrored on his face for anyone to see, Seifer's lips curved into the archtype of all smiles. At last, he had been able to give word to the feelings that had acted through his body for a long time already, and it was... good, somehow. Squall's reaction was beyond anything that he had ever fathomed to receive, and with gentle fingers, he wiped away the pearls of tears from skin of finest ivory.

"Don't cry," he cooed. "It's alright now."

And he closed the space between them, encircling Squall into an embrace that was so very much like the love that they shared pure, simple, and true.

Together at last.

They were aching to stay in each other's arms forever, never wanting to let go.

"Is this your final answer?"

At Seifer's back, Squall's hands clenched, and he buried his head into his lover's shoulder. The trembling words that escaped his lips were stifled by the cotton of Seifer's shirt, and his fingers held the indigo blue fabric in a tightly wrenched grip.

"It's okay," Seifer breathed into his ear. "This is what I wanted."

Gently, the blonde pried loose the arms that had held him in a desperate embrace. This was the decision that he had made, and he would live and die by it if his time had indeed come. Of course, Squall was trying to hold on, trying to forbid any further separation even at the mercy of their enemy, but Seifer was unwilling to give up on hope just yet. He wouldn't be able to protect Squall simply by holding him close, as much as he wished for that to be possible. Instead, he would have to face their nemesis, and now that he could rest assured that Squall knew exactly how he felt, there was nothing that he would regret.

Neither his life, nor his decision.

The brunette before him had his eyes zeroed unto his own, fear and love etched deeply into the sapphire swirls of those enigmatic oculates. His body was shivering ever so slightly, and even though Seifer was already breaking within, he smiled with as much sincerity and reassurance that anyone could possibly muster. His hand smoothed away some stray wisps of chocolate hair that danced into Squall's pretty face, and he lowered his lips to the brunette's in the tentative, feathery touch of a kiss.

..::: "This is what I wanted." :::..

When they eventually edged apart just slightly, tears had signed the lion's face anew.

Seifer never grew tired of washing them away with the gentlest of caresses.

"I will always love you, Squall," he whispered calmly, and his face lit up with the honesty of those words, "Come what may."

Then, he withdrew.

He stood effortlessly, adrenaline fueling his muscles with the last residual powers that were bound inside of him. His body turned to oppose and confront the source of all evil, and yet again it assumed a stance that was infinitely protective over the wounded SeeD mercenary at its feet.

All his life, Seifer had wanted to be knight to the cold-hearted ice prince named Squall Leonhart. Ever since their childhood, there hadn't been a single day that had passed without said wish stirring in his heart, no matter how hard he had tried to ignore it. He had always acted so tough, so unbothered, when really, he had worried about Squall every second of their long, sad past.

He remembered only too well his primal fear when, one year ago, he had been told that the brunette and his SeeD friends had been sent on a mission that would undoubtedly have claimed their lives. Ultimately, that mission had probably triggered everything that had provided for Seifer's fate as the sorceress' slave, because he had rushed to Squall's aid without even thinking.

Yes, the visions of a knight indeed.

Finally, after all that had come to pass, his wish had been granted to him. It was all that he needed to be strong and to never succumb ever again. Some day, a long time ago, Ultimecia had broken the boy in him, but she was not going to break the man. If he was to die, then so be it, but not once again would he lose himself, nor would he lose again the one that he loved.

"Yes," he proclaimed undauntedly. "This is my final answer."

The sorceress, without a question, was far from pleased. Her face had paled distinctly, and her eyes had obfuscated with intricate loathing. Her hands, once more, were moving restlessly on the sides of her throne, until she flicked one of them into the air, a merciless glint alight in amber oculates that were cold as death itself.

"Then you chose death for both of you."

Her head inclined, but her gaze never left Seifer's face as she hissed a command that a groaning Squall was already all too familiar with.

"Griever. Make them bleed."

 

 

=To be continued!=

 

 

*
Someone has changed me
Something saved me
Now this is who I am
Although I was blinded
My heart let me find that
Truth makes a better man

I didn't know this
When you were right
In front of me
Our mask of silence
We'll put away
So we can see

I'm there for you
No matter what
I'm there for you
Never giving up
I'm there for you
For you.

-"For You" by The Calling

*

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