Chapter 22 - N.p.s.N.g.s., Part V
<path to destiny>
The living room was unexpectedly quiet. A lone figure sat in the recliner, feet up, sipping coffee. Squall didn't know how Quistis had managed to keep everyone out, but he was grateful. Crossing the space between them with easy strides, he bent down and kissed her on the cheek.
"How did you manage this?" Squall asked.
"I know you well enough to know you'd need it. I convinced them to go get breakfast. I just told them I had eaten on the train, and well, you don't eat breakfast. Told them you needed to sleep until you woke up, especially with all this," she gestured vaguely toward the guest room.
Squall gave a small nod of his head. Trust Quistis to keep her sensibilities in a crisis. It was one of those qualities that had made her exceptionally valuable the first time they had dealt with Ultimecia.
"So how was the trip?"
"Uneventful. Well, until I arrived, it was. I was briefed when Zell met me at the station. That sounds so clinical, 'briefed.' Just one more side affect of life in Garden. As much as I'm worried for Seifer though, I'm more worried about you. I was just hoping that things would go well for you."
For the first time since Seifer's collapse, Squall smiled. "They did."
A moment later the front door opened and once more the major players found themselves assembled and united for a task of dire need. It looked like an impromptu war council - the leader of Esthar, a former sorceress, headmistress of the Galbadian Garden, an 'A' level SeeD instructor, and the man they had once called the Lion of Balamb. The only incongruity was a petite brunette with chestnut eyes and the face of a pixie. Nine years ago Squall had chafed under the burden of leadership. Now, facing the loss of Seifer, Squall stepped up to lead as if born to the task. Gone were his doubts, his uncertainties. He just needed to convince everyone else of that.
Holding up his hand to forestall idle conversation, Squall stared at everyone with a level gaze. "I have an idea," he stated. "We know that we can't reach Seifer. What I believe, however, is that I can find him."
"How, Squall?" Zell frowned. "No offence, but Ellone couldn't reach him, and well," he shrugged, "she's the one with the quirky talent. Last time I checked you hadn't said anything about developing any new abilities."
"Zell, patience, please. Just hear me out. Elle, I need to know something. Can you send me back to the moment of Time Compression?"
"Squall..." Ellone began.
"Not in Seifer's consciousness," Squall interrupted, instinctively answering her question, "in my own."
"I honestly don't know. I've never tried. But to the moment of Compression? Why?" she furrowed her brow and gazed up at him. "You know it won't affect anything. All you can do is observe."
"Maybe, but I don't know that for sure."
Edea turned to Ellone, her expression pensive. "I believe I see where this may be leading. The state brought on by the Time Compression is unique. In this state, there is no 'past' as we view it through linear existence. You might say that time ceases to exist. It is a concept fraught with complexities that the human mind, based in linear existence, has difficulty in comprehending. In Time Compression, past, present, and future are simultaneous - and therefore simply because Squall cannot affect the linear past, it doesn't necessarily mean that he won't be able to operate under a different set of parameters should you send him back. What concerns me, however, are two things. One, will Elle be able to send you? Two, provided you can even get there - how will you return? If she can't find Seifer, once she sends you, she may not be able to get you back."
Squall's jaw was set and his eyes were narrowed in determination. "For the first question, all we can do is try. For the second, unless I can return with Seifer, there's no point in coming back."
"I think it's too risky, and I'm not just saying that as your father. If anything goes wrong, you'll end up like Seifer, or worse," Laguna said.
Squall's voice was quiet, but it carried louder than a shout. "Wouldn't someone say that the things you did to get Elle back were 'too risky'? What I'm planning is no better or worse than that. If that's the worst objection anyone has, I'd like to get started."
Squall walked out and made his way to Seifer's side. All he could think of was how it had felt when he had opened his most secret thoughts to Seifer and, instead of rejection, Seifer had drawn him close and kissed him. In that one moment Squall had discovered what it was like to be taken for only whom and what he was, not what he had been or could be. It was for that complete and total acceptance, that trust, that... love?... that he would die to defend. He turned to find everyone behind him, and he found himself drawn into the arms of his family. They may not like his decision, but they would honor it, even if it meant that they might have to grieve for him. Once relinquished from their grasp, Squall laid down beside Seifer and found himself gazing into the eyes of Ellone. He took her hand and nodded to her and felt...
... a disorienting echo that hadn't been present when he had found himself party to this experience before. Squall's body stumbled to the ground in the disorienting haze. Exerting his will, he urged himself to stand up, but it only intensified the feedback and he saw gloved hands rising to press at the temples of his head.
What's going on? My head feels like it's splitting open! I'm lost. Alone. Find Seifer. What? Find Seifer. What the hell is this? I'm losing my mind I'm going to die here! No, you won't, just get up. I can't. There's no point to... Just get up! I've lost my mind. Please, I've got to find Seifer. No! He was only protecting me. You know that. No! Where are they? I can't... get... out. Well if you can't get out then let me out!
Like applying pressure to the stroke of a gunblade, Squall applied a force of will against his fragmenting mind. With a feeling of being ripped in half he found himself kneeling on the ground, expelling the contents of his stomach. It had worked. He stood up, then stumbled back in shock. There before him on the ground lay his own unconscious form. Glancing down, he found that somehow he had broken away now stood as a physical manifestation of his own consciousness. Backing away, he forced himself to calm down. Where would he find Seifer, or better yet, how?
I'll be here...
Squall turned his head, unable to pinpoint where the voice had come from, if it had come from anywhere at all. It wasn't Seifer's voice. Had it been? It sounded almost like Rinoa. It made him think of the first time he had made that promise. At the orphanage. That had been the only place that had ever belonged to all of them. Maybe, just maybe, Seifer had found a way there. Squall didn't know how he would make his own way there. If only it were as easy as willing himself there.
A bright light forced Squall to squint. Light? Here? As his eyes adjusted, he looked down to find that he was standing in a field of flowers. In the distance he saw the orphanage, standing just as it had when they were children. Another push of his will and he was standing on the stairs, facing the doorway into the building. Squall reached his hand out and began to turn the knob.
"I kan sense it! Something is here."
Seifer turned his head sharply to the left as if trying to discover what it was.
"I do not like this. It is gone. I suspekt that they have renewed their efforts to roust you. This will not do." Ultimecia scowled in disgust.
Deliberately affecting an air of ease, Seifer sat down on the ground. "I would not worry. They are limited by the very means of their existence. You are not." If it was true, and Squall and the others had somehow found him, he should waste no more time in facing Ultimecia. He had to get her to leave him alone. He needed Hyperion.
"I suppose you are right. This is my domain. Only I hold sway here," she settled back and twisted her mouth into a grimace that was her closest approximation of a smile.
Seifer knew it was risky, but he knew he had to make his move. Finding that old doorway in his mind he grabbed the knob and slipped through the door only to discover that things had changed since he had left it.
Squall stood, disbelieving. One minute he had been alone and the next Seifer stood before him.
Seifer blinked, not comprehending how it was that Squall should appear here now, if indeed it was Squall. He reached out his gloved hand slowly, as if expecting it to pass through air. When his fingertips impacted solid flesh, he moved closer, eyes darting back and forth as if trying to take in every detail. His mouth opened and closed as he tried to speak but couldn't find the words he needed. Finally, he found one that seemed to work well enough.
"It is you. The how isn't important. What happened?" Squall resisted the urge to touch Seifer, knowing that if he did, he would find himself unable to stop.
"Ultimecia. She can't reach here because she doesn't know it exists. There's no way to explain it right now. You're going to have to trust me."
Seifer had taken off toward the wall and Squall was left to follow. There sat Hyperion, transformed as Squall had never imagined. It gleamed as if made from obsidian, the blade elongated to accommodate three teeth that, when the gunblade penetrated flesh, would rip any organs the creature might possess out in a bloody mess. It no longer appeared to utilize any rounds in the chamber, in fact it appeared to have no chamber at all. Where the chamber had been now glowed a golden aura that seemed to wrap the very blade in tendrils of pure light. The grip had been extended and what Squall took to be the trigger jutted out at a forty-five-degree angle about three-quarters of the way up. Never in his life could Squall believe such a thing as this could exist. It was breathtaking model of destruction. Seifer shouldered the weapon as Squall simply stared at the image before him. Never in his life had he seen Seifer like this, a model of determination.
Winking quickly Seifer caught Squall's look and smiled. "What can I say? I made some," he paused, "modifications? You, however, are going to need this." Looking to Seifer's outstretched hand, Squall saw the writhing aqua and silver fire of the blade that was Lionheart.
Reaching out to take his weapon, for a moment, Squall stood toe-to-toe with Seifer. It was a sight to behold as they faced each other not as rivals, but as allies, partners. Squall feared the moment would dissipate and he would find himself alone again, searching for Seifer. Not given the assurance of another moment like this he stared into Seifer's eyes and brought a gloved hand up to caress Seifer's cheek. Swallowing every bit of hesitation and reticence he tilted his head up and gently pressed his lips to Seifer's, murmuring softly, "I love you."
Seifer couldn't prepare himself for the sheer impact of those whispered words. They took him by surprise, humbled him, honored him. The very desperation of their situation made Squall's declaration all the more precious. "I love you, Squall."
As if of one mind, they turned, not another word spoken between them as they made their way up the stairs and to the threshold of the door that marked the domain of Ultimecia.
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