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 Nine - Old Scars ~



[Seifer Almasy's Apartment, Zayin House,Friday, 17th of October, 12:14 am]

Squall was bored out of his mind. Time seemed to crawl by even slower when he checked his cell phone every other minute, so he had stopped looking at it a while back. Keeping to the living room, his phone abandoned on the kitchen counter and no daylight to indicate how much time was passing, he had decided not knowing exactly how long Seifer was making him wait would help keep his frustration in check. That had been the theory at least.

Within a couple of hours he had exhausted every possible source of entertainment in Seifer's apartment. Feeling increasingly stifled in the small space, he had paced around to try and calm himself and when that hadn't worked, he tried to fall asleep on the couch in an attempt to escape his own mind and get some much needed rest. But relaxing proved impossible, the lingering presence of Seifer in the room enough to keep him from falling asleep, no matter how tired he was.

In a final desperate act to break the monotony of waiting for Seifer to return, he had started to skim through some of the man's books. Those on gunblades hadn't held his interest for long, nothing new in their pages for him to learn. Books on crafts such as forging or inlay techniques were fascinating in ways, but too technical for a leisurely read-through, so they'd quickly found their way back onto the shelves.

A book titled Ballistics and the Art of Designing Projectile Weaponry now rested in his lap, his fingers absentmindedly flipping the pages every few seconds. It lay open on a section concerning crossbows, but he had stopped taking anything in since the moment his eyes caught sight of a picture of the outdated pinwheel model a few chapters earlier. Little was needed to veer his thoughts down unwanted paths.

Boomerangs with propulsion mechanics, like the pinwheel, were fairly easy to handle and had been the best choice for Rinoa during the war, the girl inexperienced in battle and not especially strong, but having decent enough aim to compensate for what she lacked in training. Now the weapon, along with newer upgraded versions, lay in a box at the bottom of a closet. Towards the conclusion of the war she had relied more and more on her newfound sorceress powers and her boomerangs became unnecessary. After the war she kept up her training regime for a short while, but in the end admitted she only did so because of Squall, because of what he would think. When he reassured her it didn't matter, she had quit.

Brought up with such principles as respect for your weapon, the sight of that cardboard box always stirred contradicting feelings in him. On one hand it relieved him that Rinoa was no longer involved in life-threatening situations, warranting the use of weapons; on the other hand it only served to emphasize how different their lives had become. They had been the closest during wartime, a somewhat disturbing thought.

Flipping over another page, his eyes fell to a sketch of a pistol crossbow, but he couldn't focus on it. His thoughts no longer adhered to his attempts to keep them in check after hours of boredom and lingered on his sorceress, when suddenly faint footsteps sounded from beyond the front door. They drew nearer, grew louder and stopped only for a slight moment, before he heard the sound of a key turning in the lock behind him.

Stiffening instantly, all thoughts of Rinoa effectively interrupted, he stilled his hands against the pages of the book. It took all his willpower not to turn around and watch Seifer enter the apartment. His pulse quickened as his body tensed instinctively in response to a situation that could easily turn violent. From the corner of his eyes, he immediately registered the gunblade in Seifer's hands.

Making his way to the kitchen counter, Seifer suppressed any outward reaction. Even before he opened the door to the apartment, he knew Squall was there. The light had been on, but more so, he'd felt it. Uncertain of what to expect, he schooled his expression. He would let Squall take the lead. If Squall wanted to beat him up, he'd take the beating. If Squall wanted to talk, he'd talk. Whatever the brunet wanted from him, he'd do his best to comply.

Placing Kronos on the kitchen counter, Seifer paused momentarily. Squall hadn't moved from his position on the couch. When Seifer turned around to face the brunet, he froze into place, one of his eyebrows quirking upwards. Squall was wearing nothing but a pair of too large boxers and a T-shirt Seifer easily recognized as his own.

"You're still here," he said after a moment, his voice weary. Squall was watching him closely through narrowed eyes, but it was hard to take the half-dressed man seriously, even when everything about that moment in time screamed severity.

"I thought I was free to stay," Squall stated dryly, straining to keep the resentment from seeping into his voice. Hours of waiting hadn't tempered his anger, and upon seeing Seifer's face, the blond looking as if he got tired just at the sight of him, he decided to call Seifer out on his cowardice. "You were quick to leave earlier."

"I had somewhere I needed to be," Seifer immediately said. Realizing just how untrue those words were and how he had pretty much bolted from the apartment earlier that day, he brought up a hand to rake through his hair and averted his eyes.

"Not for another hour," Squall answered succinctly, irked by the blatant lie and even more so by Seifer's uncharacteristic refusal to meet his gaze. He needed the man to acknowledge the situation, to acknowledge him, instead of just standing there. Accusation crept into his voice. "Seems like running away has become second nature to you since the war."

At the cold statement, Seifer stood stunned, feeling as if someone had him in a chokehold. He had no idea what Squall thought of him after the war, nor had he ever wanted to find out, but the realization that Squall saw him as nothing but a coward made a heavy weight settle in his chest. Attempting to focus on anything but the harsh words, he replayed Squall's other statement in his mind instead.

"How--" he started, but faltered, his brows knitting together

"You had a visitor," Squall dismissed the unfinished question. Thrown off by Seifer's subdued behavior, his anger started to deflate, making it increasingly hard to maintain a cold tone of voice. "Now would be a good time to explain yourself."

Seifer's eyes rose to meet Squall's at the firm demand. "I already told you what there is to know."

At the solemn look to green eyes, Squall realized Seifer actually believed what he was saying, that there was nothing left to discuss. Abandoning his confrontational attitude, in spite of what years of experience with the blond had taught him, he reined in the bite to his words.

"...You haven't told me a thing. In the end I'm always left to guess after your reasons."

Seifer let out a huff. "That's rich, Squall... real rich, coming from you." He narrowed his eyes in scrutiny. "But okay... if that's how you want to play it, ask me whatever it is you want to know." His words grew harsher by the second, twisted into a challenge at the end.

"Don't turn this into some game," Squall warned, too tired to comply with Seifer's terms. "... I don't understand you or the things you do.

The dangerous glint to jade eyes instantly disappeared at the softly spoken words. "That makes two of us," Seifer supplied under his breath before sighing and taking off his coat. Already exhausted from a long day and still reeking from his workout at the SCTA, he was reluctant to continue the conversation. "Look, Squall, I--" he started, turning to look at Squall. "Do you mind if I take a shower before we continue this?"

Squall took in the blond's appearance. Seifer's tired expression more so than his sweaty appearance caused him to softly shake his head, signaling he didn't mind. He had gotten Seifer to meet him halfway, or to at least acknowledge his presence, but already he felt like he'd had to battle for the small concession. A moment of reprieve didn't seem like a bad idea.

Silently, he watched as Seifer turned around and disappeared into the bedroom without another word, the blond apparently needing the time-out just as much as he did.

Inside the bathroom, Seifer quickly disrobed and got under the hot spray of water, the brunet waiting for him in his living room distracting him from the simple task of scrubbing himself down. He still couldn't believe Squall had stayed. Even though he felt dread at their conversation to come, some of the emptiness he'd felt when walking down the hall to his apartment had disappeared. This was his chance to make up for some of his wrongs. It was obvious Squall wanted something from him, answers by the sound of it, and those he could give.

Switching off the flow of water, he began to towel himself dry in quick abrasive moves. He felt urgency spurring him on, as if a moment spent lingering would suddenly make Squall disappear. The fear was absurd; Squall had stayed in his apartment all day and wasn't exactly dressed to leave, but he hurried all the same.

With a towel wrapped around his waist, he began rifling through the drawers in his bedroom. Exchanging the damp towel for a pair of loose fitting boxers, he searched for a shirt next, when an idea occurred to him. Mind stuck on the playful train of thought, he picked out a large white cotton tee, donned it and left the bedroom.

"Thought I'd even out the battlefield," he commented with a lopsided smirk, enjoying the slight rise to fine eyebrows as Squall watched his approach from the couch.

As Seifer sat down next to him, Squall struggled to keep surprise from showing on his face. He'd been trying to steel himself for serious conversation, but the sight of the underdressed blond managed to undo the entire effort, the change from solemn to playful too abrupt to process.

Realizing he'd been silent for too long, he willed himself to stop feeling self-conscious and resolutely stomped out his sudden discomfort at only wearing boxers and a shirt. It had never mattered before, and it shouldn't matter now.

"You don't have a washing machine, not even any detergent," he explained, fixing the blond with a halfhearted glare and growing even more unimpressed when the blonde just grinned at him.

"I'll do it tomorrow. Need to clean those sheets as well," Seifer said, not giving much thought to where those traitorous words would lead both of their minds.

Acutely aware of the fact that both of them were thinking about exactly the same thing, a mix of embarrassment and heat caused an uncomfortable jolt in the pit of Squall's stomach. He sincerely hoped that Seifer's continued silence meant the inappropriateness of such a remark had caught up with the blond. If they were going to have a proper conversation, he could do without unwanted images of Seifer surfacing in his mind. Fighting to keep his features neutral, he stared straight ahead. He didn't care to know the kind of expression the blond had when thinking of them in bed.

The minutes dragged on as Seifer waited for Squall to say something. His hand traveled idly to scratch at his neck. He didn't know what Squall wanted. He knew Squall wanted answers, but not to which questions. He'd already told Squall everything there was to know about what he'd done that morning, so it couldn't be that. Unless Squall wanted him to elaborate.

Or it could be about the war. Frowning at the mere thought, he tried to ignore the notion altogether. He wouldn't know where to begin if that was the case.

When neither of them spoke up, Squall quickly grew frustrated with Seifer's return to his atypically passive behavior. The blond obviously wasn't going to start talking any time soon, effectively ruining his hope that maybe he'd be spared the trouble of finding something to say first. He was neither adept at starting personal conversations nor very used to the act, especially with so much at stake.

He had been mistaken when he had thought himself capable of bringing up Seifer's offer of Avalanche, his reaction to the blond's earlier words having made that painfully clear, which left asking about the war. But the questions he wanted to ask were too blunt and didn't exactly qualify as "breaking the ice". He'd never bothered with such pretenses before, but something about the atmosphere seemed dangerously fragile. Not wanting to risk Seifer getting fed up with the suffocating silence that had settled between them, he resorted to the next best thing he could think of.

"... What is it that you do in Esthar?" he asked awkwardly, discomfort written all over his features at having to instigate the exchange, "You modify weapon parts for a living?"

"Seriously Squall? That's what you want to talk about?" When Squall fixed him with a glare in return, Seifer just sighed and shrugged, deciding to humor the man.

"Fine," he said, stalling as he considered how much to share. "Like I told you, I'm not really here much. I survive on the Gil I get from collecting materials, so I'm out of town quite often. Apart from that, I spend most of my time learning how to make weapons at a local weaponsmith and when I'm not doing that, I'm most likely at the Tiamat SCTA."

Features thoughtful and eyes vacant, Squall forgot about his unease as he took in the information. He wasn't surprised to hear Seifer hadn't been idle. For as long as he could remember, the blond always had several projects going on at the same time, ranging from part-time jobs to more illicit pastimes. The short explanation sparked an entire array of new questions as he wondered about what kind of materials the blond gathered and for whom, about what had brought the man to pick up manufacturing weapons instead of the more obvious mercenary profession.

Connecting the mention of the SCTA with the blond's sweaty appearance upon returning, he concluded the place had to be where Seifer preferred to train. No matter how unlikely it was for them to ever test their skills in a friendly fight again, he felt strangely relieved that the only real sparring partner he'd ever had still trained and was in excellent shape by the looks of things.

Eyeing the gunblade on the kitchen counter, a model he didn't recognize, the next question that formed in his mind seemed to take precedence over all the others. "Where's Hyperion?"

"At the academy," Seifer replied indifferently. "I keep all my old models there."

"Why?"

"I'm more there than here," was the simple reply. "And the brats seem to love using them for practice."

Staring at Seifer, Squall's eyebrows rose slightly at the answer. "You let brats handle Hyperion," he stated dryly, as if trying out how that bit of sacrilege tasted on his tongue. Unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion, his eyes suddenly narrowed in recollection.

"Your earlier visitor was some brat," he informed, his tone of voice betraying just exactly what he thought of said brat.

After a moment of thought, Seifer grinned knowingly and chuckled. "I should've known Nolan would drop by." The boy always did when Seifer returned after a long trip out, eager to get his hands on any spare materials. Remembering Squall's insinuation that he wasn't showing his blade the proper amount of respect, he frowned. "And come off it Squall. I don't let anyone touch the beauty lying up there. But Hyperion... Hyperion is history."

The sudden sting caused by the finality of Seifer's statement pulled Squall straight out of his train of thought. Falling silent, a hollow feeling settled in his chest. He had stuck with his two gunblades: Lionheart for when he needed an edge, and Revolver when he wanted to lose himself in training. Both held sentimental value, in spite of the blood he'd shed wielding them. Maybe because of the blood he'd shed wielding them. They had faced the things he had, had locked in battle against Hyperion and had helped him survive through it all. The thought of retiring either blade had never crossed his mind.

"...History," he echoed faintly, the weight of their history bleeding into the softly spoken word. The implications seemed obvious enough. Seifer had moved on and he... The fact that he was still sitting on that couch after everything that had happened clearly meant he hadn't.

It didn't take Seifer long to catch on to what Squall meant by the remark. Squall meant the war, them; everything that had happened between them. It was history, and history he would rather forget.

The air turned thick and oppressive, almost suffocating, as his memories resurfaced. He was ashamed of what he'd done. Squall's earlier accusation repeated loudly in his mind. "I didn't run," he said in a low voice. He knew he most likely wouldn't be able to change Squall's mind, but he had to try and make the man understand.

He hated that Squall viewed him as a coward. He hadn't left to avoid punishment for what he'd done or because he had been afraid of facing anyone. After time compression he'd been dead to the world for almost a month. Raijin and Fujin had taken care of him during that time and when he'd finally come to, it hadn't been in a prison or with anyone demanding retribution. Going back to face the people he hurt during the war seemed pointless by then. They'd be much better off never seeing him again.

"What choice was left for me?" he asked after a pregnant pause, not really expecting an answer. "I knew my days at Garden were over the minute I left for Timber... The teachers hated me. The students hated me. I failed three times."

His expression turned troubled, his eyebrows scrunching together in thought. He hadn't meant to expose himself that much. Resigning himself to just tell Squall whatever felt right and then let the man be the judge, he continued. "What was I supposed to do, Squall? ...After you defeated her... was I supposed to come back? To the place she nearly had me destroy?"

Surprised at the offered words, Squall shook his head after a moment of contemplation. It was a weak excuse, sounding almost as if the blond wanted to invoke pity, which couldn't be right. Squall didn't do pity, not for himself, not for anyone else. There was only responsibility and the choice to take it or not. Regarding Seifer with serious eyes, a slight frown in place, he voiced his thoughts.

"You did run away... Not from some life you didn't want or a place that wouldn't welcome you back... You ran from the people you owed an explanation."

"Who'd listen to what I had to say? No one did before the war... why would they care after?" Seifer asked, an edge of bitterness creeping into his voice at Squall still stating he had run.

"That's it? Nobody ever cared, so that excuses you?" Squall replied grimly, instinctively reacting to the resentment lacing Seifer's words. "To this day I don't know what possessed you to do what you did... Why you..."

Trailing off, he had a difficult time keeping his neutral mask in place. Nobody had cared about him either, back then, but he hadn't run off after a sorceress, hadn't killed indiscriminately or raided villages in retaliation. Or tortured.

Jaws clenching, he abruptly turned his gaze away from the ex-knight and nearly stared a hole into the coffee table as he tried to shake the memory of green eyes staring at him with acidic loathing, shattering pain tearing through him as the blond's hand rose in signal.

It wasn't until that first jolt of electricity that he had realized Seifer would kill him when ordered to. Disbelief had quickly been followed by an intense feeling of betrayal that was disproportionate considering they hadn't even been friends. He'd never cared about what anyone thought of him before, but the unadulterated hatred he had seen in Seifer's eyes had hurt, the moment frozen in his memory with sharp clarity.

Realizing this wasn't as much about what he had or hadn't done as much as Squall's need to understand, Seifer briefly closed his eyes. Maybe on some level that was part of why he hadn't returned. Apart from an apology, he didn't have anything to offer. He couldn't explain it, he couldn't justify it, it was just the way things had happened.

"The answer you're looking for isn't that simple. And no, it didn't excuse me. I know nothing ever could," he said, his words slow and measured.

Hearing the defeat in Seifer's voice, Squall turned his gaze back to the blond. As he studied the ex-knight's face, everything about the blond too disparate from his memories of the war, Squall remembered the strange apology and equally somber expression Seifer had worn the evening before. Though it all basically amounted to an admission of guilt, the way Seifer was behaving told him there had to be more to it. As he had feared.

Eyes taking on an unwavering edge, he banned the possible implications from his mind and focused on getting the truth, however ugly. "Nothing about the war was simple. A lot of things weren't as they seemed," he stated firmly. "I don't want easy answers. I want to understand."

Seifer didn't move his gaze to meet Squall's. Instead he leaned forward and with his elbows resting on his knees, he wove his fingers through his hair. He didn't want to return to those memories. Not fully. Even blurry flashes of what he'd done made his stomach roll.

Remembering that first moment when he'd encountered Ultimecia back in Timber, he felt bile rise at the back of his throat. If only he hadn't gone. But by then he'd realized Garden was no longer the place for him, and confident in his knowledge that Squall and the two other rookie SeeDs assigned to Rinoa's mission wouldn't succeed, he decided the least he could do when starting out his new life was to help his ex-fling and outshine his old rival. The irony of pushing Rinoa into the hands of a sadistic sorceress and Squall saving her wasn't lost on him. But those were just a few of the many memories that haunted him.

Brown lifeless eyes stared back at him as he watched blood trickle from the still fresh wound--a perfect gash he had cut deep into the cadet's throat. He'd recognized the boy and knew he'd been recognized too. They'd sparred a couple of times at a gunblade training camp a few of years back.

More images of unmoving bodies followed, all slain down in the name of his mistress. He'd always been quick about it, unless she had demanded... more. Assaulted by the familiar waves of emotions that surfaced whenever he lingered too long the past, his body grew heavy. He closed his eyes. "I--" he started, but he couldn't continue when the image of charred corpses thrown onto piles formed behind closed lids. The putrid stench of rotting flesh mixed in with the sweet smell of burned skin was still too clear. It made him want to stop breathing just to escape it.

"I just--" he tried, but the words still wouldn't come. Everything ached. Everything was wrong, and it would never be anything but. The only way he had managed to get through so far was by ignoring the past. "I can't," he said simply, the words barely audible.

Squall didn't dare disrupt the blond's internal struggle, his own disquiet mounting at seeing Seifer's entire body slumped forward, turning in on itself in an unmistakably defensive move. Green eyes wrenched closed one second and stared at nothing with a haunted gaze the next, the man's white-knuckled grip on blond hair tightening. He'd seen a lot of things during his time as commander and he knew what trauma looked like, what it felt like. In that moment he knew his doubts had been right, and the realization chilled him to the bone.

He didn't understand how, though. Matron had been possessed, an entirely different and unrecognizable persona, but Seifer had been himself. Or at least that was how it had seemed at first. The blond had known who he was fighting, had recognized each of them, but that hadn't stopped him. Ultimecia had done something else to Seifer, Squall realized. Confronted with the blond's naked distress, he was afraid to hear exactly what.

Tempering the memories that were still too raw, Seifer let out a heavy sigh. He knew Squall deserved some kind of explanation, yet he never expected the man to need it. Squall's behavior made a lot more sense now. That's what Squall had wanted back when they'd first met: the answer to why his sparring partner and rival throughout his teens had turned into a monster. Steeling himself, Seifer forced his next word past reluctant lips. "Okay."

Sitting entirely still with his eyes closed, he fought the urge to get the hell out of there. He'd never spoken to anyone about what had happened during the war, not even Raijin and Fujin. After the war, after he'd come to, they'd simply avoided the topic. They had acted like nothing had happened and had continued on with a clear focus on the future instead. On a rare occasion they had spoken of people they'd known before the war and even then Raijin and Fujin had been careful with which names to mention. Whenever an unfortunate one slipped by, they had looked almost apologetic.

He hadn't told Calder either. Nor Arc. Not a single person. He knew he wouldn't have been able to start over if he had, and since no one had wanted him dead or thrown into jail, he'd decided to make the most of his life. He couldn't have done that with the overwhelming burden of his past weighing down his every step. Squall would be the first one he'd tell. After tonight he'd leave it all behind again.

"I'm not proud of what I did," he said, wanting to make that perfectly clear from the start. Whatever Squall would make of his words, he didn't want him to think he looked back on any of it fondly.

"At the time it seemed like the obvious thing to do... I felt important, respected... understood. She wanted me as her knight. Wanted me. No one had ever wanted me before. And Garden... Garden was no longer an option."

Taking a moment to collect his thoughts, he paused. He didn't like admitting that his base need to be wanted and needed had been at the root of it all. That and his vanity.

"I knew everyone would envy me. The valiant knight, Seifer Almasy." He snorted at the irony of those words. "She never told me what her plan was. Not in the beginning at least. I just followed her blindly, tried to prove my worth."

There was another long pause as he searched for words to explain things he had only considered before and never spoken out loud.

"We were brought up to fight anyone for the right amount of money. Doing it for power and fame didn't seem that much different. But it was weird fighting you and the others. Something didn't feel right, but at the time it seemed inconsequential."

At the beginning he really hadn't noticed anything different. It was only gradually that he became aware some of his thoughts weren't truly his. He didn't know how to describe it. Because it all came from within his own mind, he had just slowly accepted that maybe he did like forcing information out of people and that maybe he did hate Garden and SeeD. After all, he'd never fit in, so growing resentment would only be natural. And he had always liked to show he was the one in control, so what did a little pain matter?

It had started out like that--small changes that had seemed plausible, merely new facets to his personality that he hadn't really liked as much as accepted. He didn't know how to explain it to Squall though. Words were failing him, and it didn't help that a large part of him wanted to let it all remain unsaid in the first place.

"It's hard to distinguish my own thoughts from hers. My own memory. My own will," he spoke in a low voice, finally finding some words. He wasn't sure they were the right ones or if they got what he felt and remembered across, but they were the only ones he could speak.

He'd been surprised one day when he'd felt the inexplicable urge to just have his mistress right then and there. Sexual urges had never been part of his life back then. After his failed experiences with Fujin and Rinoa he had simply sublimated any sexual frustration into sparring with Squall. In the beginning he had been conscious of it; his shift from needing sexual release to taking it out on his rival. But in the end he'd stopped feeling that initial need to vent and had started to only feel the need to spar.

Yet he hadn't questioned the urge when it had reappeared, he had only been surprised at the newfound lust. And it only made sense when his mistress eagerly gave in to him. After all, who else would she want?

He hung his head lower. He didn't want to tell these things to Squall, yet knew he had to if he was to make him understand. "She made me find pleasure in the most disgusting things. It was like I was reduced to primal urges. Anger, greed, lust, envy, pride... Whenever her influence receded, my body would be drained and I'd feel sick. I didn't want to keep on going. I just wanted it all to go away. I couldn't stand the thought that she'd come back for more."

That was how he'd finally realized something was wrong and that some of the things he'd noticed changing hadn't been entirely himself. He didn't know what had caused it or why it had happened, but in the span of a minute, total clarity had taken hold of him, the veil of his mistress' influence lifting. In that moment he had understood everything; how all he had done was sick and disgusting and how he had never wanted any of it. But it hadn't lasted long, nor the rare moments of lucidity that had followed. Everything had just become more and more off.

He moved his fingers to knead at his forehead in an effort to forestall the headache that was building there. As his thoughts and memories led him back to when he'd chained Squall to the prison wall, to when he'd been in charge of torturing the man, his features tightened.

"When you... at D-District..." he started, his voice low and strained. "Her disdain for you consumed me." She had hated Squall. Truly and utterly and without restraint. The first moment of clarity after he'd put Squall through pure cruelty, he no longer doubted something was wrong. Regardless of having ended up on different sides of the war, torturing one of the few people he ever cared about told him his mind wasn't right.

"When you were on that cross... it felt amazing. It was like before, only better. I had absolute power over you. Even though you had everything I'd ever wanted. Everything I'd worked for. It didn't matter. Only I did." Even speaking the words felt traitorous and repulsive. He hated what he'd done, yet he could never forget it. He could never erase those memories.

"I tried to end it after that."

That had been his solution in the end, when everything had become too painful. He tried twice, but his mistress had caught on and had no longer allowed him the periods without her influence. He didn't know why she'd ever allowed those moments in the first place. To show him her power? To show how little control he had? Or just to make him suffer? Whatever the reason, it was obviously no longer worth the risk of losing her lapdog.

"Her bond was too strong. Raijin and Fujin saw it in me. They tried to help."

But by then it was too late. Speaking the words of his mistress, he'd driven them away. It was a wonder they had come back for him in the end; his sorry ass hadn't been worth saving. It took months to even start questioning that belief, to get his life back on track.

"When you defeated her, it hurt like nothing else. It tore my mind apart." His words were laced with remembered pain as he leaned to rest against the couch, his closed eyes facing the ceiling as he tilted his head back. "It's a wonder Raijin and Fujin got to me in time. I still can't remember the first month after time compression."

Not a single memory existed between the end of the war and the moment Fujin had materialized before his eyes as a blur of silver, red, and blue, slowly coming into focus. Her expression changed from stark to relieved as she shouted out Raijin's name and hovered over him all at once. After that, it had taken him almost three weeks to do any normal physical activities or hold Hyperion properly again; weeks that had been filled with reliving memories of what he'd done.

"For a long time I wished you'd killed me in one of our battles. At least then it would have been over."

He hadn't felt like he had deserved to go on, but in the end his survival instincts had kicked in, and he'd started to focus on the simple day-to-day tasks and on getting back into shape. With Ultimecia no longer there to use him, he wouldn't take the coward's way out.

As silence settled between them, he hoped Squall wouldn't ask any questions or want him to elaborate. There wasn't anything left to say, and he didn't want to return to those thoughts any longer. When time stretched on and no questions came, he slowly allowed some of the tension that had built up in his muscles and expression to flow from him, reassured that the conversation was drawing to its close.

Having remained silent throughout Seifer's explanation, Squall sat frozen in place. His mind reeled with taking in the magnitude of what he had just been told. But it was Seifer's last words that had his heart in his throat, tight and painful, as their meaning sank in.

I wished you'd killed me. With his gaze glued to Seifer, realization crashed down on him. Images of past fights appeared before his mind's eye. Hyne, I could have. All those times after D-District when he had faced the blond with nothing but resentment and dutiful resolve... He had resigned himself to the possibility of having to kill the knight.

He wished he could say Seifer was still alive because he had made the choice deliberately, but he knew that wasn't true. It was sheer luck that he had been able to keep the frenzied ex-knight at bay without needing to inflict lethal injuries. If the others hadn't been there to back him up, he knew he wouldn't have hesitated to resort to more ruthless tactics. If anyone, it was Rinoa that had continued believing in Seifer, right until the end. It was only afterwards, when she had learned of some of the things Seifer had done, that her opinion had started to waver. Ironically enough, that's when his own doubts had started to surface.

He had been so blind.

Too many times he'd been only a heartbeat away from taking Seifer's life, too many last second dodges and parries keeping Lionheart from lodging into the blond's chest. And those were just the times when he had been the one fighting Seifer, other opponents and perils not included. For a moment the unlikely odds of having Seifer alive and sitting next to him choked the air from his lungs, but his relief was quickly replaced with guilt.

All this time he hadn't known what to think, whether he should hate Seifer or himself. He'd hoped his suspicions had been wrong, that he had just been seeing ghosts. He had theorized that maybe he had erroneously read some kind of mutual understanding and tentative companionship where there had been none, distorting his memories of the blond.

However irrational, being the betrayer was the heavier burden. Seifer hating him and fighting him, that he could learn to come to terms with. Having turned his back on Seifer when the blond needed help the most... He couldn't stomach such a thing.

"...I'm sorry..."

"Don't," Seifer said firmly upon hearing the apology. The instant dissuasion was born out of pure reflex, the thought that Squall didn't have anything to apologize for as far as they were concerned deeply ingrained in his mind.

"Just don't," he repeated with more force, finally opening his eyes to glare at the ceiling. He hated the upset quality in Squall's voice and he hated that Squall dared to apologize to him. He was alwaysthe one that screwed up Squall's life, not the other way around. He did nothing but fuck everything up.

"I hate that I keep doing this," he said as he pushed himself up from the couch, his jaws clenching. He needed to get out of there and away from Squall. He couldn't take it if he had to listen to Squall speak another word that wasn't blaming or loathing; he deserved nothing else.

Squall remained absolutely still, his gaze locked on Seifer. The blond's eyes looked like those of a caged animal, searching the room for an escape. Swallowing thickly, he choked on the words lying on his tongue. All he could come up with were words of apology, but none of them mattered, none of them could change a thing.

Troubled beyond words, Seifer headed for the bedroom without as much as a glance in Squall's direction. Getting into a pair of worn dark jeans at record speed, he reemerged moments later, fully dressed.

"I-I need to go..." he said, still unable to meet Squall's gaze as he grabbed his jacket and gunblade. He had to get away.

Unwilling to let Seifer go, Squall rose from the couch reflexively to follow after the blond. But after just one step he came to a stop again, rooted in place by the absolute revulsion and distress on Seifer's face as the man seemed near frantic in his need to be anywhere but near him. That expression told him everything he needed to know. That face was the true extent and nature of his mistakes.

Watching Seifer cross the room in the direction of the front door, he failed to find the words that would make the blond stay. His shoulders slumped, his brow furrowing in sorrow as he realized that this was it. No second chances. Only this feeling of helplessness and regret.

"...Seifer."

The name slipped past his lips almost soundlessly. The blond simply continued on in his determined stride without even the briefest of looks in his direction, either too caught up in his thoughts or ignoring him intentionally. The closing of a door had never sounded so final as it did then.



A/N: Thanks again to the wonderful Aera for betaing and a big thanks to everyone who's been kind enough to leave a review as well :)



 



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