Into Esthar

BY : Chemotaxis
Category: Final Fantasy VIII > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 1011
Disclaimer: We do not own Final Fantasy or any of the characters in this story, nor do we profit from writing this story.

~ Chapter Thirteen - Unlikely Alliance ~

[Seifer Almasy's Apartment, Zayin House, Tuesday, 21st of October, 8:43 am]

The hesitant knock at Seifer's front door didn't register at first. None of his muscles moved in reaction, his body remaining entirely lost to sleep. When the knock came again it had turned into urgent rapping, finally pulling him from his dreams.

With a groan, Seifer pushed off his blanket and stood up from the couch. Unable to open his eyes properly, he staggered blindly in the direction of the door and let out a curse when he accidentally stubbed his toe against the coffee table. Pushing open the door, he slumped against its frame and brought up a hand to his forehead in an attempt to massage the tiredness away.

Just outside in the hallway Rinoa stood wide-eyed, a slight blush creeping onto her cheeks at Seifer's unclothed form. The pair of boxers failed to hide that the blond had only just woken up, the tented fabric leaving little to the imagination. Keeping her gaze strictly on Seifer's face, she quickly molded her features back into a neutral expression.

"Good morning, Seifer," she said in a clipped voice. She almost hadn't managed to pull it off, her distrust with the man temporarily trumped by the sight in front of her. She hadn't expected Seifer to be so caught off guard, to look so tired.

"Rinoa...?" Valiantly trying to open his eyes, Seifer squinted as the bright light of the hallway flooded his vision.

Rinoa took advantage of Seifer's sleep addled state and briskly walked past him into the apartment without invitation. Her gaze lingered briefly on the couch where the blond had been sleeping, his clothes lying messily on the floor beside it. The small, windowless space didn't hold any trace of Squall's presence--neither of the brunet's gunblade cases were present, no leather jacket on the hanger by the door, not even a conspicuous second cup of coffee on the counter.

"...Is he here?" she asked faintly. She had searched all over Esthar for Squall, had considered even the unlikeliest places for him to go, Laguna's included. Desperate, she had told herself that Squall was probably with Seifer, that he simply wasn't picking up her phone calls because he was avoiding her. Squall had to be here.

"What...?" Seifer said, closing the door behind him as he turned around to watch Rinoa. When he finally realized who she was referring to, his eyebrows shot up.

"Squall?" he asked, nearly snorting at the girl's assumption. "I haven't seen him since Thursday."

Casting a distrustful look at the pillow and blanket lying on the couch, Rinoa ignored the man's sleep dazed statement and strode towards the only other door in the room. Hands clenching and features darkening, she was ready to give Squall a rough wake-up call as she flipped on the lights. How dare he make her worry like tha--

Staring into an empty bedroom, she walked farther inside, her eyebrows knitting together. The sheets were messy and obviously slept in, and a bottle of lube she wished she hadn't spotted pointed at other activities. Stopping in place, her hands clenched into fists as she realized what she had walked into; the place Squall and Seifer had--

Interrupting her train of thought and taking a moment to breathe, she forced herself to note that there was no luggage here, no duffel bags or anything that indicated Squall's presence. A brief glance into the bathroom confirmed his absence.

Her gaze traveled back to the incriminating state of the bed. If Seifer hadn't seen Squall since Thursday, then he had moved on to new bed partners rather quickly. The unfairness of it all stung. Seifer had had Squall, completely and unconditionally, but apparently it hadn't meant a thing. Jealousy would have overwhelmed her then, if the sudden damning realization that Squall wasn't here, hadn't snapped her back into the present.

Hurrying back into the living area, she fixed Seifer and the couch with a narrow-eyed gaze. "Why are you sleeping on the couch?"

"That's not really any of your business," Seifer answered coldly, restraining himself from speaking the blunt words on his mind. Mentioning his own bed and Squall's come in one sentence probably wasn't a wise move.

Registering his state of undress, he ignored his visitor and headed for the bedroom. He didn't understand why Rinoa had come looking for Squall at his place--his apartment was the last place the brunet would be.

Dressed, he returned to the living room. Stopping to lean against the door frame, he crossed his arms. "What are you doing here?"

Moving her attention away from the rather plain looking apartment, Rinoa turned around to meet the blond's glare in kind. "Don't give me that look, Seifer. It's not as if I was dying to come and ask you," she bit back, wishing Seifer would skip the confrontational act for once. "... Do you know where he is?"

Seifer rolled his eyes. "I already told you. I haven't seen him since Thursday. And we didn't exactly part on friendly terms."

Looking at the blond warily for that last sentence, Rinoa was reminded of how distraught Squall's end of the bond had felt that night. With each new piece of the puzzle that fell into place, it seemed less and less likely that Seifer was lying to her. "I just thought you might know more. This was the last place I could think of..."

Suppressing a snort at Rinoa's statement, grimly amused by the fact that he wasn't alone in thinking as much, Seifer regarded her levelly. "Weren't you supposed to meet him?"

Rinoa narrowed her eyes at the statement. "We did meet," she confirmed, forcing herself to put aside her slighted feelings for Squall's sake. "But... he hasn't called since, even though he said he would." Her thoughts returned to the "symptoms" Odine had mentioned so indifferently. "I'm worried."

Having little patience for Rinoa's words and the way she was fussing over Squall, Seifer huffed. "He's a grown man, Rinoa. Give him some credit. He probably got called out for a mission," he said as he pushed away from the door to make his way to the kitchen. He couldn't believe he was getting dragged into this. The trifles of Mr. and Mrs. Leonhart, what a joke.

Temporarily stunned by Seifer's uncaring reply, Rinoa's eyes suddenly widened in understanding. "You don't know?"

"Seifer... We met to sever our bond as knight and sorceress. He was supposed to check in with both me and Odine every twenty four hours, but he hasn't. At first I thought he just needed time... but... he's not answering his phone. He's not at the apartment or at La--"

Catching herself just in time, the president's name died on her lips. She already had enough on her plate, without having to explain why Laguna's was a possible place for Squall to go. Certain that she had conveyed the reasons for her concern, she faced Seifer head-on. "I need to make sure he's okay."

His entire posture growing tense, Seifer stopped himself in the middle of pouring a bowl of cereal. He couldn't believe what he'd just heard.

When Ultimecia and his own bond had been cut, he'd been in a bad state. Bad didn't even begin to cover it. He wouldn't have survived if it hadn't been for Raijin and Fujin. The thought that Squall was out there, alone, going through something similar made his blood run cold.

"I don't know where he'd go," he said, his voice tight at the realization. He didn't know Squall anymore. How was he supposed to find him, when he didn't even know where to search?

"When you saw him--how was he?" he asked, hoping his gut feeling was wrong. Maybe he was just getting worked up over nothing. Maybe it was different when the bond was broken with the consent of both parties. He wouldn't put it beyond Squall to just disappear as a way of dealing with a break-up.

"At the time he seemed better than I expected... considering the situation anyway... I was hurt at his lack of reaction." Berating herself, Rinoa paused to let out a humorless laugh. Because of her own pettiness, she had failed to look out for subtler indications of something being off. "The more I think about it... For over two years I was able to feel his state of mind through our bond. I've never learned to read him any other way."

Taking a deep breath to keep her voice from quivering, her gaze fell to the floor. She should have known better, shouldn't have let Squall's seemingly indifferent attitude get to her. He always acted indifferent. "His movements were a bit unsteady, but... it didn't seem that bad... He wouldn't look at me and only stayed long enough for Odine to give him his medication."

Listening to her words, Seifer clenched his hands. A bit unsteady, his mind repeated mockingly, wanting to scold the girl for being so blind. Rinoa should have known what that meant. She should have known things weren't right if Squall's moves weren't measured and precise.

Breakfast left untouched, he walked over to grab his jacket. "Come on, we'll find him," he said as he pushed open the front door.

Watching Seifer's hurried movements across the room, Rinoa realized he had been serious over the phone when saying he cared about Squall. She couldn't quite wrap her head around the notion, regardless of what Squall had told her. But there Seifer stood by the door, impatiently waiting for her to follow.

Prepared to bury their grievances for the time being, she decided that any questions she had would have to wait and followed Seifer into the hallway.

"Thank you, Seifer."

Not acknowledging Rinoa's words, Seifer closed the door behind them. Heading down the hallway, he didn't turn to check if she was following. He would much have preferred to do things on his own and wouldn't have thought twice about ditching her if he'd stood a chance of finding Squall on his own.

"My pickup's just down the road."

Getting out his cell phone, he dialed Arc's number, having to take care of work. "Hey, old man," he said when the line was finally picked up. "I'm not coming in today."

"And the blaster edge?" the smith asked.

Reminded of the job he still had to finish, Seifer hesitated. "Tomorrow... Tell the customer it'll be ready then."

"You better get in early then," Arc grumbled after a slight pause.

Annoyed at letting Arc down, Seifer's expression hardened. "Sure. See you tomorrow," he said, hanging up. Nothing he could do about it now. Returning his attention to Rinoa, he needed to get a handle on the situation. "Where have you looked?"

Starting from her surprise that Seifer had blown off work, Rinoa tore her gaze from the cell phone in the man's hand. "Well... There aren't that many places he could be, and I've checked those already. Aside from you, there isn't really anybody else in Esthar he might go to."

The only people Squall knew in Esthar were Laguna, Seifer, and herself. He'd never stayed long enough in the metropolis to start favoring certain places, so she had quickly exhausted the rather short list of possible hiding spots for the brunet.

"It does seem like he returned to our apartment at a certain point, but that might have been before we met. And he left his key behind, so he won't be returning... Also, his car isn't parked at Odine's lab anymore, so he did manage to go somewhere from there."

"How about Garden? Have you contacted them?"

Features darkening at recalling the rather unpleasant phone call, Rinoa nodded before answering, as both of them walked into the elevator. "They haven't heard from him..."

At least Quistis had been on another continent, well out of strangling range when she'd had to break the news; not only about the bond, but also about the fact that she'd broken up with Squall months ago. She had tried to be nonchalant when inquiring after Squall's whereabouts and knew that if it wasn't for Quistis' experience with Squall's tendency to avoid other people when brooding, the woman would already have dispatched a search party to Esthar. If they didn't find Squall soon, she would request the search party herself. But, as long as there was still a chance that Squall was just hiding out somewhere, she didn't want to bring the whole of Garden down on their heads.

"...Quistis is livid with me for not having told her about Squall and me."

Seifer had to fight hard to keep from voicing his own accusations. He couldn't believe she had let Squall leave straight after they'd broken their bond. Both she and Squall should have realized anything that dealt with the powers of a sorceress shouldn't be taken lightly.

"Where does he normally go when he's out?" he asked as they walked out the elevator. "Anywhere he likes to hang out? Relax? Work out?"

Rinoa shook her head and sighed. "I told you, I already considered the places he could be... He's only in Esthar for diplomatic meetings or when he's on leave, in between missions, and then he'd be with me. He always takes off after a couple of days again, so I don't think he has any of those places in Esthar."

Stopping abruptly in his tracks, Seifer ran a hand through his hair. If they didn't have a clue where to look, then where the hell were they going? They needed a hunch, a hint, something.

No ideas came. All his mind supplied was the image of Squall taking his frustration out on some monsters or losing himself to training, which implied an SCTA or a monster infested area outside the city. Something was wrong though; somehow he knew Squall wouldn't be at any of those places. But the SCTA...

Of course. Calder.

"I know someone who can help us."

Picking up his stride, he walked down the street with new found determination. Getting out his phone, he entered the man's phone number and brought the cell to his ear.

"Heya," a young voice answered at the other end of the line.

"Hand me Calder," Seifer instructed. He didn't have time to deal with Nolan.

"Seif'," the boy greeted, sounding entirely unperturbed at the order. "What're you up to?"

"Nolan, get your brother on the line. Now." Seifer's voice brooked no argument.

"Why aren't you at Arc's?"


"Okay, okay, relax..." the boy finally conceded before the line went quiet as the phone passed hands.

"Calder," the boy's older brother answered.

"Hey," Seifer said in greeting, his features relaxing somewhat. "Look, I need your help."

"Are you in trouble?"

"No, I'm fine," Seifer replied, wanting to get to the point. "I need your help locating someone."

"Sure," Calder said, accommodating as usual.

Relieved to have Calder's aid, Seifer put his cell phone in his other hand as he crossed the street outside his building. Considering what information they had that could be used to locate Squall, he briefly looked in Rinoa's direction. "We have a phone number and a license plate," he said, certain the girl would have at least as much. "Will that be enough?"

"It should be," Calder replied, before adding a reminder for the blond. "But you know it's my week off."

Seifer grimaced at the man's reply. "Will it be a problem?"

"No, it shouldn't be," Calder replied without hesitation. "I'm sure we can figure out some form of payment," he continued, his voice easily giving away exactly what kind of payment he would prefer.

A smirk appeared on Seifer's lips, the banter taking away some of the tension that had taken hold of him since Rinoa's arrival. "Get your mind out of the gutter."

"I thought you liked it there."

At the words, Seifer's smirk grew. "You're sidetracking."

"Perhaps," Calder admitted. "I'll be outside headquarters in fifteen minutes," he said, hanging up.

Closing his phone, Seifer got out his car keys. Moving into the driver's seat, he pushed open the passenger door and waited for Rinoa to get in.

Struggling to keep her expression neutral, Rinoa stared at Seifer for a few seconds; even the one side of the conversation she had just overheard was enough to raise an entire new array of questions and suspicions. Curbing the uncensored words lying on the tip of her tongue, she slipped into the passenger's seat. Seifer was already operating on a short fuse. She'd have to venture carefully.

The engine roared to life when Seifer put his key in the ignition. As he pulled out of the parking spot and headed in the direction of Calder's workplace, he felt somewhat relieved. At least they stood a chance of finding Squall now.

But the sentiment didn't last long, as the image of Squall lying passed out somewhere asserted itself. He couldn't believe Rinoa had let three whole days pass before getting to this point. Squall was a man of his word; the minute the guy hadn't phoned in as promised, she should have known something was off.

"So who is this Calder?" Rinoa asked, her eyes trained on the blond's face in scrutiny. It had been a man on the other end of the phone. A man who Seifer apparently knew well enough to ask for help and who needed to be told to get his mind out of the gutter.

Her thoughts involuntarily traveled back to the state of the blond's bed, and she had to make a conscious effort to keep a deepening frown from her face.

"He's my sparring partner."

"... I see... How exactly can he help us find Squall?" Rinoa asked as she turned her gaze away from the blond and moved to watch the street view.

Stopping at an intersection, Seifer briefly regarded the girl sitting in his passenger seat. "He works for the government. For one of their SWAT teams."

Rinoa hummed softly in understanding, before firing away her next question. "A gunblade sparring partner?"

Not understanding her interest in Calder and not really caring, Seifer brought his eyes back on the traffic and just let out a low hum in reply.

"That's nice," she commented neutrally, not letting what she thought of Seifer's apparent tendency to bed his sparring partners show on her face. Reminded of the few gunbladers they had tried to set Squall up with after the war, not a single one ever meeting the brunet's ridiculous standards, it somehow seemed unfair to her that Seifer had moved on when Squall hadn't been able to.

"...Squall never seemed to like sparring much after the war. He just trains on his own," she remarked offhandedly, peering sideways to gauge Seifer's reaction.

Seifer's expression grew solemn. He had been Squall's only real sparring partner before the war. It didn't take a genius to figure out the true meaning behind her words; yet another way he had fucked up. This, finding Squall, was something he had to do right.

"We'll find him, Rinoa," he said as he briefly looked in her direction and held her gaze.

Rinoa wasn't sure what she had wanted to provoke with her remark, but the man's somber demeanor made her feel like it had been in poor taste. As she directed her gaze out of the window with a slight frown, she wondered about Seifer's perplexing concern, Squall's belief in the blond's innocence, and how things were never as they seemed.

Street after street whizzed by but Rinoa didn't pay attention, distracted from her plan to wheedle answers out of the unsuspecting blond. Maybe Seifer really was confident that they'd find Squall, but she wasn't so convinced herself. The longer she couldn't see for herself that he was safe and sound, the more she was plagued by worst case scenarios.

The fact that Odine had even bothered developing pills at all for his former test subjects meant the symptoms had to have been substantial, enough to form a hindrance to his research. She sincerely hoped a bond differed enough from a junction to spare Squall whatever it was those volunteer hosts had suffered through...

Hands fidgeting in her lap, she whispered softly, "I hope he's alright."

"Me too."

At the softly spoken admission, Rinoa returned her gaze to the blond, wishing she could see into his head.

Seifer wasn't anything like he'd been during the war. He seemed genuinely worried about Squall, had even ditched work and offered to help without a second thought, even though he and Squall had never been friends. They had slept together, Seifer's taste in bed partners unquestionably in men. Had it meant anything at all to Seifer or was Squall just one in a series of many? If he really cared about the brunet, then how could he do such a thing?

None of it added up and she couldn't suppress her burning questions any longer, needing to know whether Squall was being toyed with. "Are you gay?" she asked almost blandly, keeping her voice as non-confrontational as possible.

Glancing at Rinoa, Seifer frowned and tried to gauge her reasons for asking. He didn't like her prying, but at the same time he had nothing to hide; he would never be ashamed of his sexuality. "Yes," he replied curtly, staring straight ahead.

"And this Calder person?" Rinoa continued her questioning casually. If she had read things correctly, they were involved, but how was the question. Surely not even Seifer would be as insensitive as to ask a lover to help track down someone he'd been unfaithful with.

"We're not together if that's what you're asking," Seifer supplied before returning his gaze to Rinoa.

"Ah..." Rinoa muttered. No strings attached then. Of course Seifer would be the type to play around. She didn't have any foot to stand on to start judging him for that; even her urge to accuse the blond of having toyed around with Squall left a bitter taste.

She had purposefully kept the nature of their relationship ambiguous while she had gone out with other men. Not because she had really been interested in any of them, but because she'd wanted to provoke some kind of reaction in the cold brunet; shake up the unsatisfying status quo that had settled between them. It seemed whenever Squall was concerned, she would lapse into petty behavior, something she hated about herself.

But hypocrite or not, she couldn't help herself from wanting to look out for him, in spite of everything she was guilty of herself. Squall was too oblivious, too busy pretending that nothing got to him and that made Seifer a dangerous person for him to get involved with.

"What about Squall?" she asked, her gaze fixed on Seifer.

"What about him?" Seifer countered, steeling his expression. He wasn't going to show her just how much the night with Squall had affected him.

Considering for a moment whether she even wanted to hear the answer, Rinoa resolutely suppressed her feelings on the matter and finally spoke the question that had been bugging her ever since she had witnessed Seifer's uncharacteristic concern for Squall. "How do you feel about him?"

Not looking Rinoa's way, Seifer kept his eyes firmly on the road. "I already told you that I care about him. You know he's fucking sexy. You figure it out."

At the reply that was both evasive and blunt, Rinoa's composed façade finally crumbled. Seifer's reply basically meant he was interested in Squall and Hyne, going by what she had felt from Squall over the bond, the blond might very well get him too. Falling silent, she slumped back into the passenger seat.

She didn't want other people commenting that Squall was sexy. She didn't want to think about Squall with anybody other than herself, especially Seifer. Staring dead ahead, she tried to steer her thoughts back on track, to their search. It was more than unsettling to no longer feel Squall; the fact that he could be anywhere, in any kind of state, ate away at her. He could die and she wouldn't know.

The bond had always been the only thing to make Squall's long missions away bearable for her, his presence a constant in her mind and his whereabouts always a certainty. Without that, she would have gone mad with worry, much like she was now.

"How long were you together?"

Not having expected for Seifer to turn the tables on her, Rinoa hesitated. It was obvious that Seifer's interest in the topic was triggered only by his interest in Squall, and somehow it felt as if answering the blond's question would come down to confirming Squall was single and available.

"...Since shortly after the war, until about five months ago." Her voice came out thick and unsteady, her gaze still fixed on the passing streets.

Seifer tightened his grip on the steering wheel. From Rinoa's voice message, he'd been certain their break-up had been recent; that what he and Squall had done had been the last straw in an already strained relationship. "Why did you break up?"

Why... A question Rinoa had asked herself many times over. She knew why, but sometimes she wished they never had, times when an unsatisfying status quo seemed infinitely better than nothing at all. Squall would never have left her on his own accord. If she had wanted to, she could have held on to this unrequited love for the rest of their lives.

Knowing well enough that Seifer didn't have any patience for tears, she tilted her head farther towards the window when her eyes started to burn, her long hair keeping her features obscured.

"I couldn't bear it anymore... waiting for him to finally love me back," she answered quietly, deciding that skirting the issue was pointless this far into the conversation. "I was planning to break our bond back then as well, but I thought taking it in steps would be less painful... To be honest, I wasn't ready yet to give up on him completely, so I kept him tied to me as my knight... even though I was the one to break up."

Naive mistake that had been; the only thing it had accomplished was to drag on a dysfunctional relationship for far longer than was healthy. "...Probably doesn't make much sense, huh," she spoke softly as a self-deprecating smile fell flat on her lips.

Frowning, Seifer realized he shouldn't have asked his questions. Even if the breakup had happened five months ago, it was obviously still fresh and painful to Rinoa. It all made sense; it explained why he'd gotten the impression he had. She was having trouble letting go and so was Squall.

"I'm sorry, Rinoa."

At the unexpected words, Rinoa glanced sideways to study Seifer.

The man sitting next to her had changed from the boy she used to date. Charming as he had been, attempts to talk about her feelings had consistently been met with an uncaring attitude and poorly hidden boredom. Not even when their summer together had come to a disappointing end had the blond bothered with expressing any form of "sorry." Sympathy was the last thing she had come to expect of Seifer.

Turning her gaze to watch the road in front of them, she quickly blinked her tears away. Strangely, an unsympathetic listener would have been the better option, forcing her to keep strong.

"We're almost there," Seifer said as he took a turn down Vana'diel Avenue. Spotting the police headquarters a few blocks down, he sped up.

How much could happen in three days? What state would a person be in, not drinking or eating for that long? What if they couldn't find him? What if no one did? Reaching the police headquarters, he swerved into the front drive.

Spotting Calder leaning against the hood of the man's black sedan, he pulled into the empty parking space next to it. He wasn't too keen on involving Calder, knowing he'd have to tell the man things he'd rather avoid, but it was his only option. Getting out of the car, he strode over to the man.

Pretending to straighten out her coat, Rinoa took a few deep breaths as she tried to shake the conversation with Seifer from her mind. Briefly, she let her gaze roam the sophisticated police building, a place she had never expected to visit, least of all for the reason she was now. The sight of it added an unsettling feel of gravity to the situation.

Starting into motion, she followed after Seifer to the man waiting ahead; Calder no doubt. The man was handsome, his attire casual and his short brown hair styled to stick out in all directions. His easy smile, tall build, and laid-back way of leaning against the hood of his car strangely reminded her of Irvine, minus the lewdness.

"Hey," Calder said as he held out his hand in greeting, his eyes warm and his pleasant smile never leaving his face as he looked at Rinoa.

Unable to muster a forced smile herself, Rinoa accepted the man's outstretched hand without a word, wishing they could skip on the niceties.

"Rinoa Heartilly," Seifer supplied from the sideline, his eyes trained on Calder. He wasn't keen on Rinoa and Calder meeting. He'd told Calder about Rinoa a while back; about his second failed experience with the opposite sex. The curious look Calder sent him left no room for doubt--Calder remembered her name. Yielding to a small nod, the move almost imperceptible, he confirmed the man's suspicions.

"Pleased to meet you," Calder said warmly, returning his attention to Rinoa. "It's nice to finally meet someone from Seifer's past."

Seifer's eyes narrowed at the comment. "Calder," he warned, his voice hard. There wasn't time for pleasantries.

"Of course," Calder replied, sending Seifer a disarming smile before looking back to Rinoa, giving her a smile as well. "Let's go," he said, turning around to lead the way.

The odd exchange didn't escape Rinoa. Turning to cast Seifer a questioning look, the blond was already walking ahead of her, following after Calder. So much for his considerate mood.

Releasing a sigh, she quickly followed them across the parking lot, the two men walking side by side and clearly used to each other's company. Watching their backs as she trailed behind, she wondered just what Seifer had told Calder about her, the man obviously aware of who she was... There were plenty of things to be told about her that wouldn't go over too well with an Estharian, but the brunet seemed to treat her normally so far.

As they entered the large building, Calder glanced sideways at Seifer and finally asked what had been on his mind ever since he had received the blond's phone call. "Who are you looking for?"

Not wanting to get into the specifics, especially not in public, Seifer kept his answer short and dismissive. "A friend."

"Anyone I know?" Calder immediately asked, the smile from earlier vanishing.


Calder frowned as they walked farther into the large lobby. "It wouldn't happen to be your visitor, would it?" he asked, raising an eyebrow in curiosity as he looked at the blond.

Nodding, Seifer looked straight ahead, avoiding Calder's gaze. The slight concession should be enough to satisfy the man for the time being.

Upon reaching security, Calder gestured towards Rinoa and Seifer while addressing one of the guards. "These are my guests," he supplied before waiting for two guest passes to be issued, leaving him a moment to think. Looking to Rinoa first, then to Seifer, he wondered what the blond's ex was doing here and just how she fit into everything. The most incriminating evidence was her reappearance into Seifer's life only days after the blond's ex-sparring partner had found his way into Seifer's bed. Hoping he was wrong, he wondered if she was the wronged girlfriend.

The two security passes placed on the counter next to him pulled him from his thoughts. Handing them over, he turned and led Rinoa and Seifer farther into the building, past the weapons checkpoint. Soon, they were walking down an empty hallway. No one would overhear his questions here.

"When did he go missing?" he asked, his eyes traveling to regard Seifer. The blond looked to Rinoa for a reply.

Feeling the gazes of both men on her, Rinoa repeated what she had already told Seifer. "Squall was supposed to call me Saturday evening, but I haven't heard from him since that morning... at Odine's lab."

"Squall?" Calder asked, looking to the blond with an arched eyebrow. "That's quite an uncommon name," he added. Seifer met his gaze levelly.

"It is," the blond said, fed up with pretenses. Next to him Rinoa's eyes widened upon realizing her mistake.

"As in Squall Leonhart?" Calder asked, his jaw going slack at Seifer implication. "The SeeD Commander?"

Grimacing, Seifer turned around and continued down the hallway. He didn't know where they were going, but he wasn't going to waste any time on Calder having a stupid moment of being star-struck and realizing that, yes, it had been Squall Leonhart, the oh so great Commander of Balamb Garden, Seifer had fucked last week. He hated how everyone idolized the man. Squall was Squall and Hyne knew the man had as many flaws as anyone. Hell, the guy could barely talk let alone make a relationship work with a beautiful girl that worshipped him. Them knowing each other was not a big fucking deal.

"No wonder you wouldn't tell me his name."

The words made Seifer stop in his path and glance back at where Rinoa and Calder were trying to catch up with him. He had the distinct urge to punch the stupid guy's face in. Usually Calder was pretty perceptive, but the guy was fucking thick if he didn't realize that Rinoa was about to catch on any minute now and would figure out Calder knew everything as well. Things were strained enough as it was--he didn't need Rinoa to be reminded of him fucking Squall's brains out. Hell, he didn't need to be reminded of that.

The stupid smile that grew on Calder's lips as the man studied him only served to further anger him. This was not funny and it was not a game. Hardening his gaze, he hoped his intent would register with the man.

Not intimidated by the murderous look Seifer was sending his way, Calder walked past the blond. The thought that Seifer knew and had slept with the SeeD Commander was absurd. He couldn't wrap his head around it. Nor the fact that Nolan had actually met and seen the Seed Commander. Calder had so many questions he wanted to ask Seifer, but above it all, he remembered his brother's rather damning description of the famous Commander. "If Nolan knew--" he started, but Seifer abruptly cut him off.

"He won't," the blond said harshly. Calder nodded, but his smile didn't disappear.

Trailing behind the two men, feeling much like a third wheel, Rinoa frowned. She had stupidly blurted out Squall's name and now Calder knew; he wasn't going to let it go either by the sound of things. Already he was talking about this Nolan finding out as well. Why hadn't Seifer just stuck with denial? It seemed like he had been telling things about Squall that Calder only now knew to link to the name Leonhart. Going by Seifer's murderous glare, she dreaded to know just what.

She hoped that Calder could be trusted, but so far it didn't seem like he was even taking the situation seriously. The man wouldn't stop smiling in amusement, while Squall was Hyne knew where in need of help.

Calder turned to face Seifer and Rinoa as he opened a door to their left and waited for them to enter. Upon reaching him, the blond stopped right in front of him and looked at him intently, clearly warning him not to say anything further on the topic. Returning Seifer's gaze, trying to understand why the blond was behaving like a brute, the reason dawned on him.

He had been the one to act like an ass. Not only had he forgotten the gravity of the situation, he'd also forgotten his earlier hunch. Rinoa was the girlfriend. Growing serious upon realizing his blunder, he looked away from Seifer. There was no way he could apologize without further aggravating things. He could only do what he should have done from the beginning.

"What's his license plate and phone number?" he asked, moving to sit by a computer.

Taking the question as her cue, Rinoa cast Seifer a reproachful glare as she brushed past him to go stand next to Calder. There was only so much ignoring she could tolerate and she had the growing suspicion Seifer had only brought her along because of said license plate and phone number.

Retrieving a pen and small notebook from her bag, she scribbled down the requested information and carefully tore out the piece of paper before handing it to Calder. Fixing the man with a firm gaze, she asked straightforwardly, "How long will this take?" She wasn't in the mood for any more banter or games.

Surprised by the sudden severity to the girl's behavior, when she had mostly been subdued and hesitant so far, Calder realized his behavior definitely hadn't warmed her to him.

"I'll set the system up triangulating his position using his cell number first. That might take a minute or two. While that's going we can run the license plate through the system. It'll only show up if his car has been reported though. I'll also set up a city wide search, matching his license plate to any security camera in Esthar. That one could take a while." While he spoke, he busied himself with typing in the numbers, his eyes locked on the screen. Silence settled in the room as they waited for answers.

"There's nothing on the license plate," Calder said, breaking the silence as he turned to look at another screen displaying a map of Esthar. A large blue circle appeared and started flashing, before the screen zoomed in on the Chimera district. "It seems his cell is switched on. It should only be a minute and we'll have his location."

Seifer stared at the screen intently. His whole body was tense with worry, but at least now they had something to go on; they'd find Squall. Next to him Rinoa brought up shaky hands in front of her mouth, pressing them together tightly.

For a minute none of them said anything; they all just watched the screen.

"It's on Seagill Road. Looks like it's number 34," Calder said, already busy feeding the output coordinates through another program. "Hold on," he continued, waiting for the result. "Skyway Inn."

Behind him, Seifer turned abruptly and stormed out the door, not waiting for the others to follow. Calder jumped out of his chair and set off after the blond in an effort to catch up.

"I'll take you there," Calder yelled in Seifer's direction, the blond already a fair distance down the hallway. When he didn't receive an answer, he turned to Rinoa and waited for her to catch up. Sending her a weak smile in apology of Seifer's behavior, he hoped she'd forgive him for his own thoughtless behavior earlier as well.

Expression determined as she met Calder's gaze, Rinoa briefly grabbed his hand in a tight grip. "Thank you," she said in a warm voice, before she turned to look at the blond storming ahead of them. Frowning at Seifer's rashness, she shook her head slightly. "He's always been such a hothead. Let's go before he leaves without us."

With Seifer already far down the hallway, Rinoa broke into a jog with Calder following her lead. It wasn't until they exited the building that they were finally close to catching up with the determined blond. When Seifer was almost at his pickup truck, Calder set off into a sprint, putting himself in Seifer's path.

"Move," Seifer said harshly, pushing past Calder.

Grabbing the blond's arm firmly, Calder hissed out his own command. "In my car," he demanded harshly. When the blond just shrugged off his hold and continued once more, Calder yelled out in frustration. "Now."

Surprised, Seifer stopped and turned to look at Calder. That was a first. He couldn't remember Calder having ever raised his voice to him.

"You're in no condition to drive," Calder said more gently, pleading with the blond to listen.

About to turn around without a second thought to Calder's words, Seifer remembered the GPS in Calder's car. They'd get to Squall faster that way, and on some level he knew Calder was right. From the moment the address had appeared on the computer screen, he'd rushed ahead without any regard for his surroundings. With a slight nod, he turned and headed in the direction of the man's car.

Pressing the button on his key fob, Calder watched as Seifer got into the back seat. When Rinoa approached the car, he walked to the front passenger seat and held open the door for her.

Casting Calder a surprised look at handling Seifer like that, Rinoa wordlessly complied and moved to sit in the car. It might not be such a bad thing after all to have the guy around. Things might turn ugly, and Calder seemed decidedly more levelheaded than either herself or Seifer.

In the back of the car, Seifer watched the exchange with a growing frown; they didn't have time for this. They needed to find Squall. Nothing else mattered. And if Squall was just hiding out in a hotel, ignoring Rinoa, then he'd throttle the guy and throw him into the nearest wall before leaving again. Worse things had happened.

A/N: Glad to see people are still reading this :D Hope you liked the chapter! And thanks to Aera for her awesome editing!


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