Into Esthar

BY : Chemotaxis
Category: Final Fantasy VIII > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 999
Disclaimer: We do not own Final Fantasy or any of the characters in this story, nor do we profit from writing this story.

~ Chapter Ten - Worlds Apart ~

[Seifer Almasy's Apartment, Zayin House, Friday, 17th of October, 12:45 am]

Squall stared at the front door.

After barely half an hour in his presence, Seifer had left again. Thirty minutes was all the blond had been able to endure. Now that he had a deeper understanding of why the blond had been behaving so strangely around him, so uncharacteristically subdued, he could no longer muster any anger at Seifer's choice to run away.

His eyes remained fixed on the front door while his mind replayed Seifer's words over and over. He couldn't organize the chaos of his thoughts. Instead small revelations came to him one at a time as everything sank in slowly, unforgivingly.

It's hard to distinguish my own thoughts from hers. My own memory. My own will.

Mind-control. That's what everything Seifer had said boiled down to. That's what Ultimecia had done to him, and it was far worse than possession. From what Matron had told him, the experience had left her with little more than vast blackouts, the time that had been stripped away from her the only cost. She had once admitted that years of fearing the arrival of Ultimecia and the race against time to make the necessary preparations had weighed more heavily on her and her marriage than those three months of possession had.

The same had been true for Rinoa. He could recall her wide, hazel eyes, filled with unshed tears, her arms trembling while refusing to relinquish their hold on him as they sat silently on the bridge of the Ragnarok. They had watched the last dying twitches of the Lunar Cry as it poured down to the surface of the blue planet below, the unnatural and eerie glow of the red moon setting the entire cabin alight, but Rinoa hadn't been able to remember her own part in what had happened--how she had freed Adel and sent the sorceress' broken tomb back down to the planet with that stream of monsters. His fists tightened at the realization that Seifer hadn't been so lucky, that Seifer had been forced to live through everything Ultimecia had used him for.

Not knowing was a blessing. He knew that for certain now. Even though both Matron and Rinoa felt guilt over not having enough strength to fight off Ultimecia's intrusion, they would never be burdened by things they couldn't remember doing. Not truly. No one would think to blame them. No one had caused Matron unnecessary stress by filling her in on the more gruesome details of the things Ultimecia had used her for.

No. What Ultimecia had chosen to do to Seifer was much worse. She had kept her knight consciously aware of everything she made him do, while maintaining just enough of the blond's behavioral patterns to prevent anyone from helping him, at least at first. By the time Seifer had seemingly lost his mind at Lunatic Pandora, too much death had been caused by his hands for anyone to want to see his madness as a symptom of something more.

No, that wasn't true.

Raijin and Fujin saw it in me. They tried to help.

They were the only ones. He had scoffed at such blind loyalty at first and had labeled the tendency of the bizarre duo to jump off after the blond no matter how high the bridge or how deep the fall as stupidity. It was only later he had come to realize that Raijin and Fujin had known damned well what they were doing, more so than anyone else. Now he couldn't be more grateful for that "blind" loyalty. It had saved Seifer's life.

All he had done was push Seifer closer to the ledge. Defeat the sorceress. Defeat the knight. That was all he had seen. That's how much their shared childhood and years of sparring and rivalry had been worth in the end.

Her disdain for you consumed me. I tried to end it after that.

That meant Seifer hadn't wanted to torture him, right? That the hatred shining darkly in those green eyes hadn't been Seif--

End it.

Starting from his misplaced relief as the true meaning of those words sank in, their only meaning, Squall slumped back down on the couch. He couldn't imagine it, couldn't wrap his head around a statement that was wrong in so many ways. Someone as headstrong and fearless as Seifer wouldn't just opt out. For him to have considered such measures... No, to have attempted such measures... Hyne, he didn't know why the attempt had failed, all that mattered was that it had.

His heart tight in his chest, Squall felt sick at how those words had actually briefly caused him to feel relief. In light of everything Seifer had told him, D-District was nothing in comparison. Even if Seifer hadn't hated him at the time, he sure had done enough to earn the man's hatred afterwards. Seifer had needed his help, and he had tried to kill the blond instead. If he had expected revenge before, then now he was even more confused as to why Seifer hadn't taken the opportunity to settle the score between them.

Remembering how he had broken Seifer's jaw earlier that day, a thought occurred to him. He was the violent one, not Seifer. The assumption that the blond would want revenge in the form of violence was based on how the blond had behaved towards him during the war. When finally face to face, though, Seifer hadn't shown the slightest inclination toward violence. His own contemplations of revenge had been very real however. If Seifer had shown the slightest bit of satisfaction at what had happened during the war...

He was the violent one.

Anything Seifer had done, he had done unwillingly. The same didn't apply to his own actions during the war. Ordered to assassinate a sorceress without any reason as to why, he had simply obeyed, unconcerned with the moral implications. At the time he hadn't known this particular sorceress was bad news; he had been told so in very little words and it had been enough to agree to assassination. He would have murdered his Matron at seventeen, unknowingly and uncaring. Always questioning the reasons and the whys, truly thinking for himself--that had been Seifer's strong suit. Not his. He had simply complied with what orders or circumstances had demanded from him.

He had killed Galbadian soldiers unflinchingly. He couldn't really remember which one had been the first, because the act had seemed inconsequential. A man's death had seemed inconsequential, and to this day he couldn't say his mindset had changed much when an enemy stood between him and his mission's objective. Detachment. Cold, calculated detachment. Even his eventual resignation to fight and possibly kill Seifer had come with a disturbing lack of hesitance.

He couldn't help but think that if their roles had been reversed, the end result would have been vastly different. Seifer wouldn't have followed the senseless orders he had. The blond would have gotten to the bottom of things, on his own if necessary, just like he had set course for the Dollet communication tower and went to Timber on his own, damned the consequences. If SeeD hadn't ordered retreat but had seized that tower, if Vinzer had been eliminated before he could install Ultimecia at the head of the Galbadian government undemocratically, then the war might have gone drastically differently with a lot less casualties.

Behind Seifer's authority issues lay a sharper mind and keener instincts than anyone had ever given the blond credit for. He, on the other hand, had learned how to fight dirty the hard way, how to think outside the box and question everything at all times. These were things that came naturally to Seifer.

That's why Ultimecia had chosen Seifer, he realized. To use the man's abilities to her advantage, before they would be used against her.

He couldn't process any of it any longer. The implications of everything Seifer had told him were too far-reaching, shedding an entirely new light on the war and his own role in it. He wished that he hadn't asked, that he had never called out after Seifer on the streets. Knowing the truth was useless when there was nothing he could do to change things. All it had amounted to was tearing open old wounds and forcing Seifer to recount memories better left forgotten.

He couldn't stay at Seifer's apartment. The blond had left for the very obvious reason of escaping his presence, and somehow he knew the man wouldn't return as long as he was still there. It wasn't his place to impose on Seifer's home any longer than he already had, on the man's new life. Their dealings with one another would end here; it was the least he could do.

Slowly Squall stirred from where he was standing by the couch, feeling numb and cold. Remembering his state of undress, he moved his eyes from the front door and started to take in his surroundings again. If he was to leave, he'd need some clothing. A simple problem with a simple solution, hardly worth the fuss he'd been making over it earlier that day. At night there wouldn't be many people around to witness his disheveled appearance anyway.

Walking into the bedroom, he gathered his soiled items and got dressed. The borrowed boxers found their way into the bathroom's laundry basket; the borrowed shirt Seifer would just have to miss. Grabbing his cell phone and patting his pockets to make sure his keys were still there, he came to a halt at the front door, hesitating. He felt as if he was fleeing a crime scene.

What was done was done, he reminded himself. No point in looking back and lingering when all that was left of their brief reunion were rumpled sheets and an empty bottle of Galbadian Bluewhistle. All he had to do was close the door behind him and leave.

Easy enough.

Willing himself into action, he stepped outside. As he walked down the hallway and called up the elevator, he quickly stomped out the absurd and pointless thought that now he'd have to sit by Seifer's door when waiting for the man to return. Mouth dry, he crossed the dilapidated looking entrance hall. Within moments, he was standing outside, the chill autumn wind blowing his bangs into his eyes.

Shrugging his arms closer to his body in an effort to keep warm, he walked down the narrow street. There was no point in memorizing the street sign or the address, but he did so anyway. The little piece of information was the only comfort he had as he put more and more distance between himself and Seifer's home.

[Rinoa Heartilly and Squall Leonhart's Apartment, Layon Tower, Friday, 17th of October, 1:53 am]

The underground parking lot was cast in a dim light, the soft hum of the overhead lamps the only discernible sound. Staring at the empty parking space next to his, Rinoa's license plate number labeling it as hers, Squall reminded himself that he had counted on her absence. The plan was to go in while she was away, get what he needed and leave.

Keys in one hand, Rinoa's purse gripped tightly in the other, he crossed the low ceilinged space towards the elevators. Briefly he wondered where she had gone, who she was staying with or whether she was alone, only to immediately frown at his pointless thoughts. Rinoa had plenty of friends in Esthar; she wouldn't be alone if she didn't want to be.

He wondered if Seifer had any places to go to this late at night, when home wasn't an option.

Trying to keep his thoughts from coming, Squall focused on the pull of gravity at the pit of his stomach as the elevator jolted into motion and ascended to the penthouse. No barking followed in greeting as he approached the front door, no sound of paws skidding through the entrance hall towards the stranger on the other side. Apparently Rinoa had taken Angelo with her, which meant she wasn't planning on returning any time soon. He would hurry anyway.

As he unlocked the door and entered, Squall couldn't shake his discomfort at returning there. He felt as if he was stepping into one of Ellone's dreams of the past. One day had changed and ruined so much more than any period of time away on missions ever had. His eyes wandered to the little side table by the door, to where no note would be waiting for him this time around, telling him where Rinoa had gone and for how long. Tearing his gaze away, he made his way up the stairs.

For a little while he stood in the doorway of Rinoa's bedroom without entering. Clothes lay in a messy heap on the bed, no doubt from when she had packed some of her things. Walking over to the vanity table, he was relieved to see that she had taken several of her magic inhibitors. He placed the purse that had been sitting in the backseat of his car on the table and got out the twin bracelets he had tossed in the handbag in his haste. They were the inhibitors that seemed to work best for Rinoa; he hoped she would be fine without them. Placing them in clear sight, along with the pills, he quickly left the room that smelled of a mix of her perfumes, smelled like her.

Briskly he made his way to the guest room and closed the door behind him, drinking in the welcoming neutrality of the room. Ignoring the urge to lean against those bland walls and not stir for long minutes, he instead reached for his small duffel bag under the bed. He had brought it with him when he had arrived a few days earlier, but there wasn't much in it, barely two changes of clothing.

Not wasting any time, he filled a second, larger duffel bag with the least offending items he could find in the walk-in closet, not too bothered in his selection when his preferred gear was in his quarters back at Garden anyway. Making quick work of gathering what little possessions he had at the penthouse, he retrieved his uniform, workbag and gunblade cases. Within ten minutes, he was back in the entrance hall.

There was nothing left for him there, no reason to stay. He had switched the lights off, was ready to leave, but as he reached for the doorknob, his hand hesitated and moved for the key in his pocket instead. Slowly he unfurled his fingers, the contour of the key pressed harshly into his palm. He stared at the small piece of metal, realization striking him unexpectedly: attachment, where he thought there hadn't been any.

Not all of it had been bad. He might never have enjoyed his time in Esthar much, and might never have felt like he belonged there, but it was where Rinoa was. Where she had always been, waiting for him. Her presence had provided him with anchorage whenever he had needed it; she had given him a place of normalcy he could always return to. Even when things had been at their bleakest between them, she had been there for him.

Brow furrowing, Squall slowly placed the key onto the side table with far less resolve than he would have preferred. He wouldn't come back; the key would tell her as much. The last thing he wanted was to chase her from the home she had made for herself. Keeping that thought firm in his mind, he hoisted his bags onto his shoulders, picked up his two gunblade cases, and left for a second time that evening.

[Calder Madar's Apartment, Vascaroon Building, Friday, 17th of October, 2:27 am]

Torn from his sleep by the loud rapping on his front door, Calder eased himself out of bed. It wasn't hard to imagine who would be visiting at the late hour; he only knew one person capable of showing such disrespect for other people's sleeping habits. Wondering why Seifer would be at his door after the man had declined his earlier offer of spending the night together, he forced himself awake.

As the knocking resumed, he picked up his pace and opened the door. The artificial light of the hallway cast sharp shadows along the blond's face, Seifer's stark expression far removed from the smirks and grins Calder was used to.

Standing back, he waited for the blond to come inside. He couldn't remember the last time Seifer had dropped by unexpectedly for anything but a quick bout of sex. When Seifer didn't enter, the blond's expression void of any emotion, Calder couldn't help but feel concerned. He was almost startled when Seifer finally spoke.

"Can I crash here?" Seifer asked, his eyes traveling to meet Calder's.

"Sure." When Calder closed the door behind them, darkness filled the room. Watching as Seifer continued into the living room, neither of them said anything.

Shrugging off his jacket, Seifer wasn't sure how to approach the situation. He knew Calder was expecting him to say or do something, yet the man remained silent. Pushing away from where he'd stilled, he headed for the man's bedroom, wanting to avoid conversation for the time being.

He'd spent the better part of an hour just sitting in his pickup without any clear idea of what to do. He didn't want to return to his apartment to deal with Squall. Reliving memories of the war had drained him. Nothing good had come from it either; instead of making things better, he had upset Squall. He didn't want anyone to pity him--hearing Squall apologize had been more than he could handle. He'd had to get the hell out of there after that.

Walking to the left side of the bed, he undid his boots and let his pants drop to the floor. He would go to bed and sleep; forget about everything else.

Calder watched the blond get ready for bed, uncertain whether he should say something to try and figure out the reason behind Seifer's behavior. When the blond got into bed without another word and turned his back to him, he had his answer.

His eyes traveled the body he knew so well. He'd missed Seifer. He always did when the blond left for his trips out of Esthar. He'd been eager for a night of fun with Seifer back in town and couldn't help but wonder what had gone wrong. Had something happened while Seifer's had been away? It seemed unlikely; Seifer had sounded fine when they'd talked on the phone. Maybe there'd been a problem at Arc's?

With a frown he got into bed as well. Returning to his earlier position, the comfortable warmth of the covers welcomed him, but more than anything he felt the dip in the mattress and the silent presence at the other side of his bed. He turned and regarded Seifer's back. He hadn't expected any surprises to surface after this long. Resisting the urge to move closer and steal some of Seifer's body heat, he turned back around and closed his eyes.

Once Calder's movement settled down at the other side of the bed, Seifer eased his grip on the duvet. On top of everything else, he didn't have the patience to deal with Calder. It was hard enough having to share a bed, but he knew he'd never have heard the end of it if he'd gone for the couch. At least this way Calder seemed to accept his behavior.

He tried to empty his mind. He wanted to sleep and not think; he'd already spent all day doing nothing but brooding and he hated brooding, but image after image from his past kept surfacing in his mind. Memories from the war and the last twenty-four hours blended together. None of them lingered long enough for him to fully consider, just long enough to leave behind a bitter taste.

But then one image froze. A chill crawled up his spine as he stared straight into the eyes of his mistress. Her poisonous gaze wouldn't leave him alone. She was beckoning him... laughing as she seduced him, the mockery in her tone only thinly veiled. She made him feel like he owned the world, like he could control everyone.

The quiet creak of a door resounded in the darkness. A different darkness. Seifer no longer felt the mattress beneath him as he walked further into the house, following the sound. His gaze landed on small fingers curling around the edge of a wooden door. Frightened eyes peeked at him from behind it, immediately followed by the sound of light footsteps quickly padding away. With a soft press he pushed the door open fully. Warm rays of afternoon sunshine fell in through the cracks between the wooden planks that made up the walls, casting the room in a soft glow. A tiny girl stood in one of the corners of the room, her form trembling as her gaze darted to the weapon in his hand. At the sight of its sharpened edge, her eyes widened, and tears gathered in them.

Bringing his index finger to his lips, Seifer indicated for her to stay quiet and sent her a warm smile. Carefully, he placed his blade against one of the walls and watched as the girl stopped trembling. Not saying anything, he walked closer until he was just across from her, his smile never faltering. Easing down onto one knee, he reached out and tucked a stray brown lock behind one of her ears. Placing his finger against her lips briefly, he widened his smile.

"You're a good girl," he whispered, softly placing a hand against one of her arms. "Doing what your parents told you to: staying quiet."

"You need to keep that up."

After a brief moment of contemplation, she gave a small nod. He patted her arm gently.

"Come on, I'll get you out of here," he added and moved his hand to take hold of her smaller one, getting back onto his feet.

Slowly, they made their way to where Hyperion was resting against the wall. Grabbing hold of the blade, he looked at the girl and gave her hand a soft squeeze. A small smile appeared on her lips. Neither of them said anything as they walked out of the house.

Stepping onto the porch, he felt her small hand loosen up in his hold to break away; she'd spotted her parents. He tightened his grip.

Nothing but darkness greeted him after that.

[Calder Madar's Apartment, Vascaroon Building, Friday, 17th of October, 6:15 am]

Loud beeps broke the silence, forcing Seifer to open his eyes. Groaning at the sound pulling him from his dreamless sleep, he felt the warmth pressed close disappear. As he rolled onto his side, he caught a glimpse of Calder leaving the room for a morning shower. Kneading his forehead, the hour far too early for any semblance of coherent though, he sighed and turned to lie on his back once more.

When he tried to move again, his limbs felt too heavy and refused his commands. Unable to break through the debilitating lethargy, he grimaced and closed his eyes. This was why he avoided thinking back on the war.

The image of the curly-haired girl smiling at him caused the chasm within him to open wide. Thoughts of her would consume him if he lingered on them for too long. They had in the past. Sorting through other memories of the war instead, he didn't notice when Calder returned to the room.

At the sight that greeted him, Calder frowned. Usually Seifer was dead to the world at that hour of the morning, but instead, jade eyes were locked on the ceiling. Calder ran a hand through his hair. He'd never experienced Seifer brooding before. Somehow he knew forcing the issue would only get him on the blond's bad side though. Resigning himself to remain quiet, he got dressed instead.

"I'm off," he announced, waiting in place. Not even a twitch to Seifer's expression betrayed the blond had heard him. As he left, he stopped briefly in the doorway to glance over his shoulder. "We're still on for later, right?"

"Yeah," Seifer replied gruffly as he moved into a sitting position, his eyes traveling to the window.

With a brief nod, Calder left the room.

Watching the darkness outside, Seifer felt somewhat relieved that in spite of everything that had happened, nothing had really changed. He'd spar with Calder that evening, as was their habit whenever he wasn't out on one of his trips. Knowing the rest of his day would be entirely like usual helped put things into perspective. The comfort was short-lived though, as he wondered what Squall was up to, whether the brunet was still at his apartment.

Pushing out of bed, he walked over to one of the windows. Scanning the lights of the nearby buildings from the higher vantage of Calder's apartment, the image of Squall speeding along the streets of Esthar somewhere came to mind. As his chest constricted, he looked away again. He doubted Squall was still at his apartment, but if the man by some off-chance needed somewhere to stay, then he'd let him, as promised. He wouldn't return to find out.

He turned to look at the bedside clock. 6:43 am. He hadn't gotten much sleep, yet he knew he wouldn't be able to dose off a second time. He'd also promised Arc he'd be in early to make up for the mess he'd made of things the day before. Heading for the shower, he banned all thoughts of Squall from his mind and focused on the day ahead of him.


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